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Take That, Superbug! New Supercharged Antibiotic to the Rescue

05-31-2017

There's a new antibiotic in town and superbugs are running scared. 

That's welcome news, because lately we've been witnessing a nightmare scenario unfolding before our eyes: bacteria that can not be killed. In plain terms, that means a person gets an infection that kills them. 

We've been reverting to living in fear of common infections, much like we did back in the days before antibiotics were developed. Now, even though we have antibiotics, too often they don't work. 

This has happened because antibiotics have been overused. In response to that, bacteria, which are living organisms, managed to change slightly, or mutate, in a way that made them stronger and therefore resistant to antibiotics.  

These drug-resistant bacteria are called superbugs. 

In recent years we've seen superbugs infect an increasing number of patients, while doctors helplessly stand by with nothing in their arsenal to fight back.  

About 12,000 people die each year from drug-resistant bacterial infections. That's roughly the same number of people who die from breast cancer. 

Now that's changing. There's a new antibiotic on the scene that's so powerful, one scientist called it "magical." That's the good news. 

The bad news is it's still being tested and even if testing goes well, the new drug won't be available to the general public for years. So until then, superbugs are still a major threat

What's interesting is that this new antibiotic isn't really all that new. It's a super-charged version of an antibiotic that's been around for decades: Vancomycin.  

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, modified Vancomycin, making it 1,000 times stronger. It works on bacteria in three ways to make it harder for them to develop resistance.

"This increases the durability of this antibiotic," Dale Boger, who led the research and is co-chair of the Scripps Research Institute's chemistry department told CNN.

"Organisms just can't simultaneously work to find a way around three independent mechanisms of action," he said. "Even if they found a solution to one of those, the organisms would still be killed by the other two."

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