With antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" infecting 2,000,000 people per year, and a dearth of new medications in the pipeline to treat them, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, are taking a novel approach to addressing the looming public health crisis: they are developing new drugs to make old drugs work better.
"We believe the compounds we've discovered have the potential to rejuvenate existing antibiotics--to make bacteria that are now insensitive to multiple drugs sensitive again," says Corrie Detweiler, professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.
More than 23,000 people die annually in the U.S. from bacterial infections that have evolved to resist antibiotics. Thousands more suffer life-threatening bouts with once-easily-treatable illnesses like strep throat, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia --and some forms of tuberculosis and gonorrhea now are resistant to all available drugs.
"As our antibiotics work less and less, we risk essentially going back to a period 200 years ago when even a minor infection could mean death," Detweiler notes. "Even the risk from routine procedures like knee surgery is going to go up."
Most antibiotics in use today were developed in the 1950s, and the last time a new class of antibiotics hit the market was in 1984, according to the Pew Charitable Trust. "With industry largely turning away, it's up to academic labs like ours to step up and help feed the pipeline." Detweiler maintains.
Detweiler has developed a technique called SAFIRE (sinogram affirmed iterative reconstruction) for screening for new compounds with anti-microbial properties. "The old way of discovering antibiotics helped us get to the low-hanging fruit, but that stopped working a long...