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New drug mixed with antibiotics may fight MRSA superbug

Teresa Tanoos's picture
New agent increases potency of antibiotics to fight superbug infections.

A new study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society reveals that a new class of metal-based agents may revive the potency of antibiotics, making it possible to battle drug-resistant superbug infections.

By pairing conventional antibiotics with the new agents, referred to as metallopolymers, researchers believe they can fight the drug-resistant superbug called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA), which is one of the most common infections in hospitals throughout the nation.

MRSA bacteria spreads when contaminated hospital workers unintentionally pass it onto patients through their hands, making it easier for susceptible patients to catch the superbug, which can lead to potentially severe or fatal illnesses, such as pneumonia.

Superbugs like MRSA are the result of an evolution of sorts, whereby repeated use of antibiotics that used to be effective for fighting infection, stop working altogether – and, in some cases, lead to super infections.

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Although researchers have previously attempted to develop new agents to revitalize conventional antibiotics, they have had little success – until now that is, as the research team in this latest study has discovered a new class of agents that work differently to restore the potency of antibiotics against superbug infections.

Study leader Chuanbing Tang, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of South Carolina, explained that by pairing this new class of agents with antibiotics, the combination effectively killed the protective membranes of the MRSA bacteria, causing the superbug cells to explode.

This polymer-antibiotic combination was successful against numerous strains of MRSA that had previously been resistant to conventional antibiotics, including penicillin-G, amoxicillin, ampicillin and cefazolin.

Moreover, the researchers believe that the new agents will have few side effects because they leave the red blood cells alone, only destroying the membrane surrounding the MRSA bacteria that kills the superbug cells.

"These discoveries could provide a new pathway for designing macromolecular scaffolds to regenerate vitality of conventional antibiotics to kill multidrug-resistant bacteria and superbugs," concluded the research team.

1. Journal of the American Chemical Society, Antimicrobial Metallopolymers and Their Bioconjugates with Conventional Antibiotics against Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria; Jiuyang Zhang, Yung Pin Chen, Kristen P. Miller, Mitra S. Ganewatta, Marpe Bam, Yi Yan, Mitzi Nagarkatti, Alan W. Decho, and Chuanbing Tang; J. Am. Chem. Soc. online 17 March 2014; DOI: 10.1021/ja5011338.
2. American Chemical Society, Press Release, April 9, 2014