Science

Scientists identify drugs that prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria

But further studies are required to determine whether these drugs can be used in humans.

Scientists have identified a group of drugs that stops the bacteria responsible for serious infections such as pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis, from developing resistance to antibiotics.

Researchers have found 46 candidates that work by preventing the spread of antibiotic-defeating genes among the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.

In mice and in human cells grown in the lab, the drugs stopped the microbes from sharing these so-called “resistant genes” by blocking the secretion of a protein called CSP.

But the researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands said further studies are required to determine whether these drugs can be used in humans.

S. pneumoniae is usually present in the nasal cavity, where it is normally harmless.

However, it can migrate to other parts of the body, causing serious bacterial infections such as pneumonia, sepsis and meningitis – known collectively as invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD).

Bacteria such as S. pneumoniae become resistant to antibiotics by modifying their genes or by taking up resistance genes from fellow microbes, a process known as “competence”.

This process is facilitated by the CSP protein produced by the bacteria.

Dr Arnau Domenech, of the University of Groningen and first author on the study, said: “When cells are under growth stress, for instance in the presence of antibiotics, they try to find a solution and become resistant to these drugs.”

Researchers scanned through more than 1,300 drugs and found 46 candidates that disrupted the CSP production among bacteria and, therefore, prevented the transfer of genetic material that boosts antibiotic resistance.

Dr Domenech said: “In the lab, we observed that our competence-blocking drugs could prevent the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes to susceptible strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae and we obtained the same results in cultures of human lung epithelial cells.”

The researchers said that while these drugs are non-toxic, they may not be safe to treat human patients at this stage and further studies are required to demonstrate their feasibility.

Dr Domenech said: “Nevertheless, we discovered a general pathway that we can block to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance.”

The findings are published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

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