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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Bacteria That Evades Drug Treatment

One of the major concern for scientist and medical practitioners is the issue of bacteria that is resistant to standard treatments. ‘superbugs’ as they are often referred to are not just the one of concern or of great threat to public health, but chronic bacterial infections that evade treatment which afflict many people. For this reason scientists are looking for new ways to exploit weaknesses in bacteria, and trying to develop new treatment strategies. In the quest for this, researchers at the BASP Centre, University of Copenhagen have reported finding strategies utilized by bacteria in order to survive antibiotic treatment and as aptly named it persister cells. A complete understanding of this phenomenon will help the development of better drug treatments, and could potentially initiate the creation of novel antibiotics that would aim at these tenacious, pathogenic persister bacteria.

Alexander Harms and colleagues in their publication in the journal of science described this newly identified molecular mechanisms that helps the bacteria endure and survive antibiotic treatment in such a way that they can later cause infections that become recurrent and chronic. Such infections can be forced down with typical therapeutic regimens, only to re-surface especially when the immune system is vulnerable. In their words “This amazing resilience is often due to hibernation in a physiological state called persistence where the bacteria are tolerant to multiple antibiotics and other stressors. Bacterial cells can switch into persistence by activating dedicated physiological programs that literally pull the plug of important cellular processes. Once they are persisters, the bacteria may sit through even long-lasting antibiotic therapy and can resuscitate to cause relapsing infections at any time after the treatment is abandoned.”

Recent work published by investigators working in the field has revealed the molecular underpinnings of several cellular cascades that drive the formation of bacterial persisters. Scientists have been able to confirm what scientists have long thought, that persistence is very closely related to dormancy or slow growth. Analogies to bacterial persistence can therefore be found in nature, such as animals that go into hibernation, slowing metabolism during periods when their environment is not ideal for survival. Another example is the tough, persistent spores that many mushrooms and plants produce to propagate themselves.
In an event seen in many different kinds of bacteria, a special compound, referred to as "magic spot" – the molecule guanosine-tetraphosphate or ppGpp, regulates dormancy pathways, giving it a central function in the bacterial persistence phenomenon. Many of these findings were achieved at the BASP Centre, and hopefully will aid in the future development of better drug treatment strategies, or even the eventual creation of novel antibiotics. Major and most important goal is now how to design drug, probably a secondary one that will be effective when the bacteria persist i.e. switch to a dormant mode.

For further reading on bacteria associated with chronic infections, the journal Virulence will be helpful.


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