In proteins, a possible antibiotic revolution

San Francisco-based startup AvidBiotics says it can reverse the effects of an E. coli infection with a novel new protein -- no conventional antibiotic required.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

The problem with antibiotics? We're running out of them.

Over the last half-decade, our arsenal of powerful bacteria-killing medicines has slowly (though in biological time, rapidly) been depleted as nature, through evolution, outwits our efforts to develop chemical tools that can save us from some of the world's most deadly diseases.

San Francisco-based startup AvidBiotics believes there's a better way to tackle the problem; one that doesn't include antibodies.

The company announced on Monday that it has developed a new antibacterial protein targeted against the O157:H7 strain of E. coli, demonstrating that food-borne bacterial infections can be fought without deploying a derivative of penicillin.

The protein, which is orally administered, can prevent or treat diarrhea and intestinal inflammation from this particular strain of E. coli, regardless of whether it's taken as a preventative measure or immediately after the onset of symptoms.

The O157:H7 strain of E. coli often goes hand in hand with the contamination of processed foods, from ground meat to unwashed greens. Periodic outbreaks keep the agriculture industry on edge.

While the new protein won't do anything to force farmers and food processors to adopt better practices, it can help E. coli -- this strain, at least; for more on others, see the comments below -- from becoming fatal. Today's antibiotics cause E. coli to produce harmful toxins; meanwhile, anti-diarrheal medication encourages the E. coli bacteria to remain in the intestines.

The AvidBiotics researchers -- in conjunction with the Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School -- say that their "Avidocin" protein remained active in the intestinal tract of test rabbits for at least 24 hours after administration, preventing E. coli colonization and symptoms, such as diarrhea and intestinal inflammation. Moreover, there was a "greatly reduced" number of E. coli bacteria in the animals' stool.

That's good news, as the protein could help mitigate the effects of an outbreak, whether for food safety or biodefense purposes.

Their research was published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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