Increasing antibiotic resistance, or bacteria’s ability to evade the defenses of common antibiotics, has been an international health problem for years, but new research suggests we may have found a solution. A new study revealed that equipping immune system cells with virus parts results in a hybrid cell that may be enough to fight off infections which have grown resistant.
The study, soon to be published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that adding a “targeting device” from a virus to an immune cell may help to fight antibiotic-resistant superbugs, The Independent reported. When tested on mice, the hybrid cells were able to latch onto these bacteria and then signal for the body’s immune system to destroy them.
While the survival rate of rats infected with a type of bug known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that were given this hybrid cell were high, it’s still not clear if the cells would be safe for human use. However human testing has begun, and the team is hopeful.
“This approach could make it possible to develop a new class of immune-boosting therapies for infectious diseases,” study researcher Dr. Vincent Fischetti said in a statement.
The scientists took a mechanism known as lysins from viruses and put them onto immune cells. The lysins target carbohydrates on the cell walls of bacteria, something immune cells cannot do. By combining the two, the researchers created the ultimate immune cell that could both search out and destroy bacteria.
It may be some time before we learn if this new treatment is safe, and whether it can be mass-produced on a large scale. However, at the moment antibiotic resistance continues to grow, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcing that if bacteria keep evolving resistance at the current rate, by 2050 19 million people will die a year from once-curable infections.
Not all news is grim though, and international scientists continue to work around the clock on a way to combat this global threat. For example, this February, researchers from the University of Lincoln in England released a study in which they described a possible new antibiotic called teixobactin. According to the report, although teixobactin did not completely solve the problem of antibiotic resistance, it could be an alternative treatment for certain resistant infections.
Source: Raz A, Fischetti V. Proceedings of the National Academy. 2017