A new technique and type of molecule are being used to create an antibiotic that can change shape to fight emerging superbugs
Spotted: Overuse of antibiotics has led to a crisis of resistance. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in 2019 around five million deaths were associated with antimicrobial resistance. This is not only a human tragedy, but there is also a huge financial cost associated with the treatment of infections caused by multidrug-resistant germs. These infections are so difficult to treat, that the World Health Organization has deemed antibiotic resistance a top 10 global public health threat.
Now, Professor John E. Moses, at Cold Springs Laboratory, has developed a new weapon against drug-resistant bacteria – an antibiotic that can change its shape to respond quickly to new superbugs. The new antibiotic uses a molecule called bullvalene, in which the atoms can swap positions. This gives the bullvalene a changing shape with over a million possible configurations.
The team started with a base of vancomycin, an antibiotic that several bacteria, including MRSA, have developed resistance to. Moses and his colleagues then created a new antibiotic with two vancomycin ‘warheads’ and a shape-shifting bullvalene core. To develop the antibiotic, the team used a technique called ‘click chemistry’, in which catalysts cause pairs of molecules to ‘click together’ like Lego bricks. The resulting reactions are fast and specific.
To test its efficacy, the researchers gave the new drug to wax moth larvae infected with vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus. The shape-shifting antibiotic was found to be significantly more effective than standard vancomycin at clearing the deadly infection.
The danger posed by antimicrobial-resistant bacteria has given new urgency to the hunt for a solution. Springwise has spotted a number of innovations designed to solve this problem, including the use of nanoparticles and laser light to tackle drug-resistant microbes and a new technique for rapidly quantifying antibiotic resistance.
Written By: Lisa Magloff