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Common Jewelry Element May Make Your Antibiotic Less Resistant

Antibiotic resistance meets jewelry

Antibiotic resistance is a real, present, and growing danger, and countless numbers of people around the world face having infections that may not be effectively treated with this common category of medication. A solution could lie in utilizing a form of an element used in jewelry but which also has medicinal purposes, such as making your antibiotic less resistant and thus better able to fight infections.

How serious is antibiotic resistance?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the problem of antibiotic resistance is considerable:

  • About 630,000 cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis exist in the world
  • A high percentage of infections people acquire while hospitalized are caused by highly resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or Gram-negative bacteria that resist multiple antibiotics
  • Perhaps most frightening is the statement that “new resistance mechanisms have emerged, making the latest generation of antibiotics virtually ineffective.”

And that’s not all. In January 2013, Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, stated that within the next two decades, people who undergo simple surgeries may die because doctors will not have antibiotics capable of fighting routine infections.

Davies has called the antibiotic resistance situation “very serious” and noted that not enough is being done around the world to make sure doctors use antibiotics correctly.

What the new research on silver shows
Results of the new research indicates that the use of low doses of silver can make antibiotics up to 1,000 times more sensitive, which means the drugs gain a significant ability to manage bacteria. This finding could be highly important because silver may help make currently ineffective antibiotics “new” again.

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Specifically, the research team discovered that silver was beneficial on several levels. For example:

  • Use of silver expanded the usefulness of vancomycin, a common antibiotic that typically is effective at killing only Gram-positive bacteria (e.g., Staphylococcus, Streptococcus). The researchers found that silver added to this antibiotic treatment allowed the drug to kill Gram-negative bacteria, such as those associated with MRSA and food poisoning.
  • The addition of silver to an antibiotic regimen also improved response to treatment for two types of infections: those caused by biofilms (microorganisms that frequently coat prosthetic joints and catheters) and bacteria that “hide” during antibiotic treatment and then emerge once treatment has been completed

In fact, another recent article appearing in the June 4, 2013 issue of Biofouling, reported on the anti-biofilm activity of silver nanoparticles. The researchers noted that that silver nanoparticles were found to “effectively prevent the formation of biofilms and kill bacteria in established biofilms.”

Why silver is effective
The researchers conducted lab experiments using strains of E. coli and treating them with a substance that contained silver. They discovered that the presence of silver caused the bacteria to make more reactive oxygen species (ROS) which, in excessive amounts, can damage a cell’s membrane (making it leaky) as well as proteins and DNA.

Further investigation revealed that even when silver was present in small doses, it made E. coli 10 to 1,000 times more sensitive to three commonly used antibiotics: ampicillin, gentamycin, and ofloxacin. When they then treated mice with infections, they found that:

  • Use of silver in animals with urinary tract infection caused by E. coli resistant to tetracycline caused the antibiotic to be effective against the bacteria
  • 90 percent of mice with peritonitis treated with vancomycin and silver survived versus 90 percent that died when treated with vancomycin only
  • The amounts of silver used to treat the mice were much too low to harm the animals, and the researchers also found the levels did not harm human cells as well.

Why this research is important
Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to human health, and pharmaceutical companies are not producing effective, long-lasting antibiotics to keep up with the growing resistance. Finding new ways to tackle the problem, such as the use of silver to boost antibiotic activity, may be one answer to the challenge.

Martinez-Gutierrez F et al. Anti-biofilm activity of silver nanoparticles against different microorganisms. Biofouling 2013 Jun 4. Epub ahead of print
Morones-Ramirez JR et al. Silver enhances antibiotic activity against gram-negative bacteria. Science Translational Medicine 2013 Jun 19. DOI:10.1126/scitranslmed.3006276
World Health Organization

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