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Team winning fight against drug resistance; North East researchers' breakthrough.

Byline: Helen Rae Health Reporter? 0191 201 6269 ?

RESEARCHERS in the North East have made a groundbreaking step forward in the important fight against antibiotic resistance.

A team led by Durham University is hoping their research will pave the way for the creation of inhibitors which will allow a revival in the use of many life-saving antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is a global problem and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that for tuberculosis alone, multi-drug resistance accounts for more than 150,000 deaths every year.

Durham University joined forces with experts at the University of Birmingham for a study to focus on the best ways to combat the ever-increasing problem.

Some bacteria are classified as "gram-negative" because their cells have a double membrane, compared with "gram-positive" bacteria, which just have one outer layer.

Not only are these double-layered cells difficult to penetrate, they also have effective "pumps" which quickly reject anything that interferes with the activity of protein-building within the cell and the development of the protective cell wall.

Scientists at the university have for the first time gained a detailed insight into how these protein components of the pump work together to remove any antibiotic from the cell.

Research lead, Prof Adrian Walmsley from Durham University's School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences said: "It is a significant step forward in the understanding of antibiotic resistance.

"Patients with bacterial infections are often treated with antibiotics, but since many strains are resistant to one or more of these drugs, clinicians often try to bring such infections under control by prescribing a combination of different types of antibiotics in the hope that they will override the resistance mechanisms.

"This sometimes works, but other times it does not. Pumps exacerbate this situation by reducing the effective concentration of the drug inside the cell.

"By investigating how these pumps function, we have been able to identify the molecular events that are involved in binding and transporting an antibiotic from the cell. This advance in our understanding will ultimately aid the development of 'pump blockers'.

"This is important because these pumps often confer resistance to multiple, structurally unrelated, drugs; which means that they could also be resistant to new drugs which have never been used before.

"There is still quite a way to go in the understanding of how to combat antibiotic resistance but this is a new step forward."

The university study has been going on for five years and was funded by a PS300,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust.

Dr Ted Bianco, acting director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "A world without antibiotics is a world where simple surgery becomes a life-threatening procedure, where a scratch from a rose might prove fatal, and where diseases like tuberculosis return with a ferocity not seen in Britain since the Victorian era.

"This is why fundamental research to understand the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance is so important. Only when we know what we're up against can researchers begin to design new antibacterial agents to help us win the war against bacterial infections."

A REAL THREAT TO THE NATION'S HEALTH ANTIBIOTIC resistance can happen when strains of bacteria mutate over time and become resistant to a specific antibiotic.

Recently, the Government's Chief Medical Officer said the threat posed by antibiotic resistance should be ranked alongside terrorism on a list of threats to the nation.

The problem is a "ticking time-bomb" and should be put on the Government's National Risk Register, which also includes "catastrophic terrorist attacks", Prof Dame Sally Davies said.

Pharmaceutical firms are trying to discover new antibiotics but it is costly and often not viewed as a priority.

Prof Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist from the University of Aberdeen, previously said options for drugs companies was slim as the easy drugs had been developed.


ANTIBIOTIC STUDIES Prof Adrian Walmsley, of Durham University
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 25, 2013
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