Strengthening antibiotics against resistant bacteria

Published: May. 20, 2019 at 3:49 PM EDT
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At least 2 million Americans will develop an antibiotic-resistant infection this year. Drugs that used to work, like penicillin or amoxicillin, often don't anymore.

These resistant infections are on the rise, and researchers say it's something that should concern all of us. Scientists are searching for ways to solve this ever-growing problem. What they're coming up with is promising.

Each year, 23,000 Americans die from an antibiotic-resistant infection.

"The days when you can give a patient an antibiotic and you were pretty darn sure it was going to work are pretty much gone," University of Colorado Boulder microbiologist Dr. Corrie Detweiler said.

Bacterial infections that could once easily be cured now have potential to kill. Detweiler's team wants to make antibiotics more effective. They searched through 14,000 compounds and found three that show promise.

"We've been able to find some chemicals, some compounds that inhibit bacteria from pumping out antibiotics," Detweiler said.

Many bacteria have developed efflux pumps that pump out antibiotics meant to kill them. Detweiler's compounds block those pumps.

"If we can inhibit those efflux pumps, then we essentially resensitize that bacterium to a particular antibiotic," Detweiler said.

Neuroscientist Dr. Pam Harvey's students research thousands of compounds looking for new antibiotics.

"In general, one in 10,000 compounds tested will become a drug in the pharmacy for you," she said.

For Harvey, the research is important. It's also personal.

"My dad got pneumonia over the summer," she said. "This is a guy who rides motorcycles and goes on trips with his friends. Two weeks later, he passed away from an antibiotic-resistant strain of pneumonia."

It's been a tough road, but she remains focused on her work.

"The problem is not going away. It's getting worse," Harvey said.

Last year, one of Harvey's students had a hit on one of the thousands of compounds under review. It's now under study to test its efficacy on a resistant form of salmonella that causes typhoid fever.

Detweiler said there are simple steps we can take to reduce our risk of infection. That includes treating even the smallest of cuts with Neosporin or alcohol, and if you're given a course of antibiotics, it's important to take them exactly as prescribed.




REPORT: MB #4575

BACKGROUND: Antibiotic resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. In most cases, antibiotic-resistant infections require extended hospital stays, additional follow-up doctor visits, and costly and toxic alternatives. Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect people at any stage of life, as well as the healthcare, veterinary, and agriculture industries, making it one of the world's most urgent public health problems. No one can completely avoid the risk of resistant infections, but some people are at greater risk than others (for example, people with chronic illnesses). If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then we lose the ability to treat infections and control public health threats. (Source:

PREVENTION: The CDC has some tips on how you can protect yourself and your family, beginning with cleaning your hands and taking antibiotics correctly. Also, vaccination is one of the best ways to prevent illnesses. Every year, thousands of Americans get sick from diseases that could be prevented by vaccines. Be conscious when preparing food and when traveling abroad, and be aware of the new risks of gonorrhea: the common sexually transmitted disease is becoming harder to treat due to increasing drug resistance. If you are diagnosed with gonorrhea and your symptoms continue for more than a few days after receiving treatment, then return to a healthcare provider to be checked again. (Source:

NEW RESEARCH: Corrie Detweiler, PhD, a Microbiologist from CU Boulder and her team published a paper detailing multi-drug resistant bacteria and compounds that may be used to fight them: "Bacteria evolved molecular machines called efflux pumps to export toxic chemicals, including antibiotics encountered in the environment. Multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria use efflux pumps to rapidly transport clinical antibiotics out of the cell and thereby increase the dosage at which they tolerate antibiotics. One way to combat MDR pathogens may be to reduce the activity of efflux pumps and thereby increase pathogen sensitivity to existing antibiotics. We describe an infection-based screen that identified chemicals that inhibit bacterial efflux pump activity and show that these compounds bind to and block the activity of bacterial efflux pumps." (Source: