New insight into how to fight antibacterial drug resistance

A new study funded by the Wellcome Trust recently discovered how viruses develop drug resistance to antibiotics and will potentially become key in developing a way to combat this world-threatening process.

Researchers said that with the threat of antibacterial drug resistance becoming more pressing, the urgency of finding new ways to combat this process is high. If antibiotics become ineffective in treating small infections, something as small as an infection from a paper cut can become fatal, the researchers warned.

The researchers focused on the two types of bacteria - gram-negative and gram-positive. Gram-negative bacteria have double membranes and are more difficult for drugs to penetrate. Gram-negative bacteria also have a "pump" system that rejects any foreign substance that intercepts the cell's ability to develop proteins and a protective cell wall.

Gram-negative bacteria is the bacteria most commonly known to develop drug resistance to antibiotics. The new discovery of how the pumps work, however, makes scientists hopeful in the ability to develop a way to counter antibacterial drug resistance.

"By investigating how these pumps function, we have been able to identify the molecular events that are involved in binding and transporting an antibiotic from the cell," Durham University Professor Adrian Walmsley, the research lead, said. "This advance in our understanding will ultimately aid the development of 'pump blockers'. This is important because these pumps often confer resistance to multiple, structurally unrelated, drugs; which means that they could also be resistant to new drugs which have never been used before."

Dr. Vassiliy Bavro from the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham remains hopeful that the discovery of how the pumps function on an intricate level will lead to the ability to find a way to disrupt their function and overcome this rise of antibiotic drug resistance.

"A world without antibiotics is a world where simple surgery becomes a life-threatening procedure, where a scratch from a rose might prove fatal, and where diseases like tuberculosis return with a ferocity not seen in Britain since the Victorian era," Acting Director of the Wellcome Trust Dr. Ted Bianco said. "This is why fundamental research to understand the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance is so important. Only when we know what we're up against can researchers begin to design new antibacterial agents to help us win the war against bacterial infections."