Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

Developing New Antibiotics: Thinking Beyond Bacteria Resistance

44s3uqhhro.jpgBacteria may be having a renaissance. Back in the days of the discovery of penicillin, doctors gleefully handed out antibiotics like they were candy and patients were more than happy to munch them down. They were quite effective too, but bacteria rapidly became resistant.

Doctors and scientists worry that we are approaching a time where if we don’t come up with novel antibiotic mechanisms, we will face an epidemic of untreatable bacterial infections. MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylcoccal auerus, is probably one of the biggest fears.

John Rennie wrote about this issue in the PLoS blog The Gleaming Retort. He describes two strategies scientists are using to try to come up with new weapons in the great antibacterial war. So, naturally one of the first things they turned to was cockroach brains.

A group from the University of Nottingham reported a 90 percent MRSA kill rate utilizing compounds extracted from cockroach and locust brains that were not harmful to human cells. The logic behind their research is that insects have no adaptive immune system (antibodies, lymphocytes etc…), but they are able to survive extremely harsh, contaminated and frankly disgusting environments. Researchers theorize they must rely on extremely potent anti-microbial compounds in order to survive. It is unclear though why these compounds would only be in the nervous system, and the study has not yet been subject to peer review.

The other strategy is to study a cannibalistic species of bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. Under harsh conditions, the bacteria releases a compound called SDP that causes neighboring bacteria to commit suicide and release precious nutrients. Researchers at UCSD were able to use this compound to neutralize MRSA at a concentration similar to the popular antibiotic Vancomycin.

John Rennie, however, had some reservations, which he sums up very nicely below:

Also, although the idea of novel antibiotics derived from insects that live in germ-ridden circumstances sounds appealingly sensible, I can’t help but be reminded of this story from a couple of weeks ago about novel antibiotic compounds found in frog skin. Which also makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, because frogs, too, need special resources to help them survive in filthy, microbe-rich water.

Unfortunately, that story also reminded me about this story from 2008 about antibiotics from frog skin. Or this one from 1999. Or the stories I wrote about Michael Zasloff and Magainin Pharmaceuticals, which was trying to develop novel antibiotics from frog skin more than 20 years ago.

The stories behind certain drug candidate molecules are so fun and compelling and sensible that you can’t help but think they will work out. And sometimes they do. But more often, they don’t, no matter how great the stories are.

In three paragraphs he summarizes a major problem facing medical technology and public perception nowadays. There is so much to be excited about and to spend money on, but it is very difficult and rare for exciting medical technology to make it to market and become useful to people. We’ll take the glass as a half-full approach, though — half full of delicious lifesaving cockroach brains.

The Gleaming Retort: Filthy Places for Antibiotics

Image credit: Matt Reinbold

(hat tip: SCOPE Blog)

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

Read more »

How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »