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Antibiotic Resistance: WHO Reveals Plan to Combat its Effects

Jun 05, 2015 04:57 PM EDT
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Antibiotic resistance is a phenomenon that's sweeping the globe, worrying scientists that a "post-antibiotic era" is in our future. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed its plan to combat such an outcome using DNA.

The radical plan, described in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was presented and approved last week at the WHO's annual assembly in Geneva.

In recent years, as antibiotics are increasingly prescribed by doctors, even in cases when they are not needed, bacteria have consequently learned to resist and survive such treatments. This has resulted in the emergence of human diseases that are much more difficult to treat compared to normal.

Now, a team from Tel Aviv University (TAU) has proposed a two-pronged system for combating this dangerous situation. It involves bacterial viruses called phages, which transfer "edited" DNA into resistant bacteria to kill off resistant strains and make others more sensitive to antibiotics.

According to the researchers, the system, if ultimately applied to pathogens on hospital surfaces or medical personnel's hands, could slow the rapid, extensive spread of antibiotic resistance around the world.

"Since there are only a few pathogens in hospitals that cause most of the antibiotic-resistance infections, we wish to specifically design appropriate sensitization treatments for each one of them," Professor Udi Qimron, of TAU's Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, said in a statement. "We will have to choose suitable combinations of DNA-delivering phages that would deliver the DNA into pathogens, and the suitable combination of 'killing' phages that could select the re-sensitized pathogens."

One such antibiotic-resistant pathogen they plan to use their new tool on is pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is commonly involved in hospital-acquired infections.

The idea that bacteria could be sensitized to certain antibiotics first emerged in Qimron's prior research when he created a bacterial DNA-reprogramming system, called the CRISPR-Cas system.

Through this, he also found that specific chemical agents could "choose" those bacteria more susceptible to antibiotics.

According to the researchers, "selective pressure" exerted by antibiotics renders most bacteria resistant to them. Thus, this has led to the current epidemic of lethal resistant infections in hospitals. And until now, no counter-selection pressure for sensitization of antibiotics was available.

"We believe that this strategy, in addition to disinfection, could significantly render infections once again treatable by antibiotics," concluded Qimron.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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