Five superbug defenses that can keep you from dying in the hospital

Five technologies that will zap superbugs before they make you sick or kill you.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

He may have not realized it, but Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered a mold that could save millions of lives.

In 1928, while in his lab, the biologist discovered that an active ingredient in the mold Penicillium notatum was an infection-fighting agent that could kill colonies of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

The discovery of penicillin lead to the production of antibiotics, drugs that could kill disease-causing bacteria. Bye bye, syphilis? Bye bye, gangrene? Bye bye, tuberculosis? Well...almost. Doctors started prescribing them and then over-prescribing them. And we started using them and abusing them.

However, this spawned antibiotic resistance and suberbugs, a problem as lethal as the infection itself. Now, experts warn that we are at the end of the antibiotic era.

“It’s already happening,” University of California, Los Angeles professor Brad Spellberg told Newsweek — to the tune of roughly 100,000 deaths a year from antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States alone. “But it’s going to become much more common.”

For instance, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA is a superbug. When it enters the blood stream and attacks the body, the infection can grow so large only surgery can get rid of the drug-resistant bug.

Right now, our best line of defense against MRSA is antibiotics. Sometimes, as a last line of defense, doctors prescribe vancomycin and linezolid. Although even those drugs aren't guaranteed to work.

Suberbugs like MRSA are becoming a huge problem in hospitals, but scientists have been working to combat the spread of the potentially deadly bug.

Here are five technologies that stand a chance against superbugs:

1. Fecal transplants: Restoring the bacterial flora of the colon to the native state through a donor can literally stop a potentially deadly Clostridium difficile infection from taking over. Anyone's poo will suffice, as long as it is screened for infectious diseases. But your siblings may make the best donors.

Gastroenterologist Thomas Borody's clinic has performed 1,500 of these so-called fecal transplants. "I got a very bad name among my colleagues, as someone who feeds people shit," Borody tells New Scientist. "We have a therapy that is nearly 100 per cent curative. What the hell are we doing spending millions of dollars on antibiotics?"

2.Light technology: There is a special light that can make bacteria basically commit cell suicide. Scientists at the University of Strathclyde demonstrated in clinical trials that a light technology known as the HINS-light Environmental Decontamination System is effective in getting rid of bacterial pathogens in the hospital setting. It prevents the pathogens from being transmitted through the environment and prevents the spread of the infection among patients.

“The system works by using a narrow spectrum of visible-light wavelengths to excite molecules contained within bacteria, explains John Anderson, a professor at the University of Strathcylde. "This in turn produces highly reactive chemical species that are lethal to bacteria such as meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and Clostridium difficile, known as C.diff.”

3.Anti-pathogenic drugs: An anti-pathogenic drug developed to kill MRSA works by blocking it from producing toxins. This way, you can treat MRSA without actually killing the bacteria.

“Staph bacteria are ubiquitous and normally do not cause infections, however, occasionally these bacteria become harmful due to their secretion of toxins,” said Menachem Shoham, a professor at Case Western Reserve. The key was preventing a molecule called AgrA from releasing toxins. The professor looked for compounds to inhibit it, so he screened 90,000 compounds. Seven of those worked.

The way we currently treat the infection makes it a prime place for bacteria to want to fight for survival. The side effect of that is the eventual resistance to the drugs. This new type of drug would sidestep that urge and keep the bacteria at bay.

4. Brains of cockroaches: When I see a cockroach, I want to smash it with a paper towel. British researchers see more potential than I do. The scientists discovered that molecules found inside the brain tissues of insects can fend off unwanted bacteria. The brain tissue killed off 90 percent of the E. coli and MRSA.

“We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs,” University of Nottingham’s Simon Lee said in a statement. “Also, these new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects."

5. A coating can kill MRSA upon contact: Lysostaphin, an enzyme that is found in Staph bacteria, naturally fights off superbugs and can be used to create a coating for surgical equipment.

Researchers found that when the nanotube-enzyme was mixed with regular household paint, MRSA was eradicated in 20 minutes after it touched the special surface. Fortunately, the paint isn’t toxic to other cells and probably won’t lead to more resistance nor pollute the environment. The coating can be washed without losing its ability to kill MRSA.

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