A valuable weapon in war against drug-resistant superbugs: Antibiotic offers hope

Tests show that drug is effective against the same kind of chronic bacterial infections that have killed hospital patients

Science Editor

A new kind of antibiotic that causes microbes to digest themselves has been developed by scientists who believe it could become a valuable weapon in the war against drug-resistant “superbugs”.

Laboratory tests show that the drug is effective against persistent strains of the Staphylococcus bacterium and is able to cure laboratory mice of the same kind of chronic bacterial infections that have killed hospital patients.

Kim Lewis of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, said that the drug, called acyldepsipeptide (ADEP4), works by activating an enzyme within the dormant “persister” cells of the bacteria, which causes these hardened microbial cells to self-digest.

“Persister cells don’t grow. They shut down their metabolism and in order for antibiotics to work against bacteria, the microbes must grow. ADEP4 essentially forces the cells to self-digest. The compound has an ability to sterilise an infection,” Dr Lewis said.

ADEP4 activates a protease enzyme that breaks down proteins within bacteria. However, resistance soon develops against the drug, which is why it was abandoned by the drug industry in the 1980s as a possible antibiotic, he said.

The study, published in the journal Nature, demonstrated however that when ADEP4 is used in conjunction with a conventional antibiotic, such as rifampicin, it is very effective at ridding an infection of the persister cells that are often left untouched by the treatment.

“They become susceptible to killing by any antibiotic essentially. One of the major causes of drug resistance is a large, lingering population of pathogens which happens in patients with chronic infections,” Dr Lewis said.

“If you can rapidly sterilise and get rid of that large population, you then get rid of an enormous source of resistance acquisition,” he said.

Kenn Gerdes of Newcastle University and Hanne Ingmer of the University of Copenhagen said in an accompanying article in Nature that the results were “remarkable” and offer hope for a new way of tackling resistant bacterial infections.

“This growing body of results generates hope that antibiotics for the treatment of persistent infections will be available in the future,” they say.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Sport
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all