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Phage viruses can make superbugs susceptible to antibiotics again

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#1 AnBr

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Posted 15 January 2021 - 10:33 PM



In an effort to find new treatments, scientists are beginning to circle back to old, discarded ideas. At the top of the list is phage therapy, which uses bacteriophages – tiny viruses that prey solely on bacteria – to hunt down the superbugs. Since antibiotics were discovered soon after phages were, there was never a dire need to develop phage therapy further. Until now.

For the new study, researchers from Monash University set out to find a phage that would target and kill a superbug called Acinetobacter baumannii. This opportunistic bacteria, often acquired in hospitals, is currently priority target number one on the World Health Organization’s hit list.

The team identified a phage from wastewater that almost completely wiped out A. baumannii in lab culture tests. Unfortunately, the effect was short-lived, and it only took a few hours before the bacteria developed resistance to the phages. But there’s an intriguing upside to the story: in developing resistance to phages, the bacteria became vulnerable to antibiotics again.

"A. baumannii produces a capsule, a viscous and sticky outer layer that protects it and stops the entry of antibiotics," says Gordillo Altamirano, lead author of the study. "Our phages use that same capsule as their port of entry to infect the bacterial cell. In an effort to escape from the phages, A. baumannii stops producing its capsule; and that's when we can hit it with the antibiotics it used to resist."

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#2 Bact PhD

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Posted 16 January 2021 - 11:22 AM

View PostAnBr, on 15 January 2021 - 10:33 PM, said:

So “what’s old is new again.”
Sounds similar to the stuff my graduate advisor did in the 1970s & early ’80s, something that back then was termed “adaptive resistance.” Damn, if he were still at it (retired in mid-‘aughts, passed away in 2019 after a lengthy illness), I can’t help but wonder what might have been.
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