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New drug approach could offer relief to patients, hospitals fighting antibiotic resistance

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Antibiotic resistance has become a problem of epic proportion. In the United States alone, it affects about 2 million people. A new research by the scientists at Virginia Tech has found a new group of antibiotics which may provide relief to people who are suffering from it.

Bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, and the antibiotic resistant strains commonly known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are the new targets of this new antibiotics group. The results of the study were published in Medicinal Chemistry Communications recently.

In the year 2013, an estimated 9,937 people had died in the United States due to invasive MRSA infections. Even though the current infection rate have declined, as per the Active Bacterial Core surveillance report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 8150 deaths were associated with inpatient stays in health care facilities.

The newly discovered potential new antibiotic group is different from the contemporary antibiotics as they contain iridium – a silvery-white transition metal. Since, the new transition metal complexes do not easily breakdown, it makes the delivery of antibiotics to where they are needed to fight infections in the body more precise and accurate. Researchers have experimented about the toxicity of these iridium containing compounds and have found them to be nontoxic to animals and animal cells. So, it is very likely that they are also safe for human use.

Joseph Merola, a corresponding author of the study, a professor of chemistry in the College of Science and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate said that their study have found that these compounds are safer than other compounds made from transition metals. Researchers have experimented to find that the antibiotics effectively kill the bacteria without inhibiting mammalian cells. One version of the said antibiotic was also tested for toxicity in mice with no harmful effects. The compounds are also being tested in human cell lines and till now the cells have remained normal and healthy.

Joseph Falkinham, a professor of microbiology in the College of Science and an affiliate of the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery said that even though the development of the antibiotic is at a very early stage, the preliminary results till now show that they are safe and effective as well. The researchers hope that in the coming few years, they would be able to identify various characteristics of these antibiotics “like its stability, distribution and concentration in animal tissue, penetration into white blood cells, and its metabolism in animals.

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium commonly found on the skin and nose – that is how it spreads into hospitals and other medical facilities. When people contract the bacteria in a hospital setting, the infection can be life-threatening. It can cause pneumonia and infections in the bloodstream and in surgical wounds.

In September last year, the U.S. Federal government has issued an executive order to combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a statement that said “ it represents a serious threat to public health and the economy”. Following that announcement in March this year, a National Action Plan sketched out the next critical steps for key federal agencies and departments.

Merola said that it is good news for us that we have discovered the organometallic antibiotics when bacteria have not evolved to resist them.

The spread of MRSA is a major threat to people in hospitals and other health care facilities not only in the U.S. but also in Europe and around the world. As per an estimate provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance is a problem that adds around $20 billion annually to health care costs in the U.S.

Here’s how you can fight a common infection without the use of antibiotics.