Wpg Free Press: Global crisis, U of M breakthrough
Research team's 'out-of-the-box' thinking delivers promising ammunition in war with antibiotic-resistant bacteria
One by one, the wax moth larvae died quickly. Two of the usual antibiotics didn’t help. The invader that devoured the larvae’s bodies, a tricky bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, knows how to defend itself against most of our medical weapons.
At the University of Manitoba, scientists watched the wax worms’ fate. In a control group, 73 per cent of infected larvae died within a day. In groups treated with moxifloxacin or tobramycin, two common antibiotics, the death rate was nearly the same.
But in a fourth group, the results were very different. Researchers had unleashed their latest creation: using a “rope” of carbon molecules, they tied moxifloxacin and tobramycin together, creating a new, hybrid antibiotic.
Months later, a top science journalist would call it a “bizarre” molecule. But it worked. Twenty-four hours after they were infected with Pseudomonas, all 15 wax worms treated with the hybrid were still wriggling. All of them had survived.
It wasn’t the first indication the U of M team, led by chemist Dr. Frank Schweizer, had landed a solid punch in the fight against antibiotic resistance. But after years of slow and sometimes frustrating research, it was one of the most obvious.
The hybrid stymied Pseudomonas in a way neither antibiotic could do alone. Schweizer’s team had set out to tackle one of the most daunting public-health threats of our generation, and their approach had proven its promise. The next step is turning the promise into a significant addition to medicine’s arsenal in the increasingly worrisome science-bacteria arms race.
“I hope that this breaks the threshold in a way that says, ‘Guys, this can be done,’” Schweizer says. “We can get this activity even against Pseudomonas, which is generally considered to be one of the most challenging pathogens we are facing.”