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New weapon in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Posted: 25th June 2021

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a significant threat to our health and wellbeing, but scientists are fighting back. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new chemical probe that can identify antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The latest development could help clinicians identify the bacteria affecting their patients and create new, targeted treatments.

Antibiotics have transformed treatment for bacterial diseases, but over-use and emerging new bacteria mean they are less effective than before. “In response to antibiotic treatment, bacteria have evolved various mechanisms to resist that treatment, and one of those is to make enzymes that chew up the antibiotics before they can do their job,” explains Emily Que, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin and lead author of the paper published in Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The research team, led by Que, focused on the threat posed by a specific bacterial enzyme known as New Delhi Metallo beta-lactamase (NDM). NDM can break down a range of standard and safe antibiotics used to treat common bacterial infections, including penicillin. The team created a fluorescent chemical probe that can identify NDM in a sample. When the chemical probe is dropped into a test tube, it binds with the enzyme and glows.

“The type of tool we developed gives us critical information that could keep us one step ahead of deadly bacteria,” says Que. The probe has clear clinical applications, enabling doctors to spot the presence of the enzyme rapidly and, as a result, prescribe potentially more effective treatments, including a combination of antibiotics.

The chemical probe could also help scientists to develop new, more targeted treatments for NDM. While no clinically approved and effective NDM inhibitor exists, the chemical probe could help scientists rapidly identify one, the authors state.

Researchers could test various potential drugs and observe whether they knock the probe loose and stop it from illuminating. “This allows us to work towards developing therapies and eventually understanding evolutionary characteristics of such proteins,” said Radhika Mehta, lead author on the paper.

The new probe is an important development in the fight against antibacterial resistant antibiotics. It also provides an insight into the complex way that bacteria can affect the body and evade treatment.

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You can read the paper, Visualizing the Dynamic Metalation State of New Delhi Metallo-β-lactamase-1 in Bacteria Using a Reversible Fluorescent Probe, here.

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