Watch Out, Superbugs: You Can’t Morph Around This ‘Dirty’ Class of Drugs

Drug resistant bacteria have been a major health threat for two decades now, causing countless extended hospital stays and even death. The most common type, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), is so common that there is a “community acquired” version — that is, you don’t have to be in the hospital to obtain this deadly bacteria. It’s everywhere: schools, gyms, stores. It manifests itself in skin abscesses, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. It is one of the leading causes of death in United States nursing homes and is easily transmitted from surfaces and from healthcare providers’ hands.

There are many reasons these “superbugs” have developed. Liberal use of antibiotics, particularly when they are not needed nor helpful, such as the cases of viral conditions (including influenza and the common cold), individuals who don’t completely finish their antibiotics course, and farmers that have routinely given antibiotics to their livestock to avoid infections, contribute to superbugs. Bacteria have been able to literally change their molecular patterns in order to overcome these antibiotics and replicate, thus producing “superbugs” that routinely used antibiotics don’t treat. This is problematic for many reasons, one of them being that only a few antibiotics treat the most common “superbugs,” which makes the antibiotic very expensive and difficult for those who are indigent to obtain.

The good news is that a study, published today in the journal Nature, has discovered a new class of medications (found in dirt!) that will not only treat resistant bacteria, but also one that bacteria cannot outsmart or “morph” around, researchers say.

“Teixobactin is a promising therapeutic candidate; it is effective against drug-resistant pathogens in a number of animal models of infection. Although still in the early stages of research, the discovery of a potential new class of antibiotics is good news: the development of new antibiotics has stalled in recent decades, while resistance to existing drugs becomes an ever more serious threat to human health.”

As reported by Yahoo News, Teixobactin kills bacteria by binding to fat molecules on their cell wall, causing the wall to break down, according to the study. Most other antibiotics target proteins in bacteria, and the bacteria become resistant when the genes that code for those proteins mutate. Targeting fat molecules may make it a lot harder for the bacteria to develop resistance, according to the researchers. They also believe similar compounds are able to fight resistant bacteria, and may also be found in dirt.

“It is likely that additional natural compounds, with similarly low susceptibility to resistance, are present in nature and are waiting to be discovered.”