A new class of antibiotic could be a game-changer in the fight against drug-resistant infection, scientists say.
Teixobactin is the first new antibiotic to be discovered in 30 years. It kills a wide variety of drug-resistant bacteria, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and the microbes that cause TB. It also worked against the bacteria that causes pneumococcal pneumonia, according to the study reported in Nature.
The bacterial infection MRSA kills 11,000 Americans every year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A UK study last year warned that a failure to tackle drug-resistant infections could kill an extra 10 million people a year and will cost the global economy up to $100 trillion by 2050.
“Teixobactin kills exceptionally well. It has the ability to rapidly clear infections,” said the study’s senior author, Kim Lewis, director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at Northeastern University in Boston. “My estimate is that we will probably be in clinical trials three years from now.”
Most antibiotics are created from bacteria found in the soil, but only about 1% of these microorganisms will grow in petri dishes in laboratories, Lewis says. That has limited the number of naturally occurring antibiotics we have been able to can find. To get around this, Lewis and his colleagues worked out how to use soil samples to generate bacteria that normally would not grow under laboratory conditions.
Placing the bacteria on a device they call an iChip, the research team returned the microbes to the ground where they grew into colonies large enough to be transferred to the lab to test.
“Essentially, we’re tricking the bacteria,” he said. “They don’t know that something’s happened to them, so they start growing and forming colonies.”
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.