Friday, 8 May 2015

Overcoming the problem of antibiotic resistance bacteria - a promising development

In my post on emergence of multi-drug resistance bacteria, I had pointed out the danger of medicine as we know it returning to the pre-antibiotic era.  A promising development holds out hope of success in fighting these pathogens.
The development is due to Nobel Laureate Kary Mullis and published in the 
Journal of Molecular Medicine, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s00109-015-1280-4

This very clever idea uses pre-existing antibodies to attack and kill the pathogenic bacteria.
The way it works is to attach one end of a 'homing beacon' (or Alphamer) to the bacteria; the other end of the homing beacon is alpha-Gal, a type of sugar molecule. Humans naturally produce antibodies against alpha-Gal  because alpha-Gal is foreign to humans. Other mammals and some microbes produce it. Humans have evolved antibodies against alpha-Gal when we consume meat or are exposed to alpha-Gal-generating microbes in our environment. 
The Alphamers now tell the antibodies that alpha-Gal is present and the antibodies devour the tagged pathogenic bacteria with it. If  Alphamers continue to show promise, researchers might be able to apply the same concept to attack any type of bacteria or virus, or perhaps even cancer cells.  
The team says - “We’re picturing a future in which doctors have a case full of pathogen-specific Alphamers at their disposal.  They see an infected patient, identify the causative bacteria and pull out the appropriate Alphamer to instantly enlist the support of the immune system in curing the infection.”

Alphamers (purple) act as homing beacons, attracting pre-existing anti-alpha-Gal antibodies (green) to the bacterial surface. (credit: Altermune Technologies)

Watch the full animation at the youtube video (4 minutes) - lovely video.


The problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria is being studied by many different methods.  An entirely different method to the above is being tried and could be interesting to read about.

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