VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As bacteria grow more resistant to antibiotics and overuse continues to pose a challenge, a team at UBC is developing a new way to give old drugs a new kick.
Scientists are pairing regular antibiotics with peptides, chemicals and proteins that control the functions inside our cells, to boost their effectiveness on antimicrobial resistant bacteria.
“This is a new approach where you’re using the peptides to make the antibiotics work a lot better in situations where they don’t normally work,” said Bob Hancock, professor of microbiology and immunology at UBC. “I see this as a way of resuscitating the activity of antibiotics that are not working as well as they used to.”
The team’s research focused on Escherichia coli and so-called ESKAPE pathogens — named for the first letter of the six bacteria, Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumonia, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacter. The infections account for more than 60 per cent of all hospital infections.
They found when the bacteria get together in large enough groups, known as biofilms, the stress causes them to adapt and become more resistant to antibiotics.
“What the peptides do is they break down the ability to form stress by binding to the key regulator, and then because the bacteria now think they’re not stressed anymore, they’re susceptible to antibiotics,” Hancock said.
Studies of certain peptides on mice proved successful and now the team hopes to move to clinical human trials.
“Not every combination (of peptides) will work and it required lots of testing to find the right combinations of peptides and antibiotic to treat the dense infections in skin abscesses,” said Daniel Pletzer, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow in the department of microbiology and immunology.
The researchers hope to commercialize a treatment and have licensed the peptides to ABT Innovations, a UBC-spinoff company owned by Hancock.
A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 30 per cent of antibiotic prescriptions in the US were unnecessary, and health professionals said BC’s numbers were roughly the same.