07/15/2015  |  
Posted in Oral Health
Hope in the Fight Against Superbugs

One of the top threats to human health worldwide is the rise of so-called superbugs — bacteria that have become resistant to drugs formerly able to kill them. Just recently, a Los Angeles hospital faced an outbreak of potentially deadly CRE (carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae), an infection produced by intestinally (entero) derived bacteria that is extremely difficult to treat. Other superbugs that have made headlines lately include MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and Clostridium difficile, a common hospital infection that gives rise to a severe colitis (inflammation of the colon).

Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that unless we solve this problem, many of the medical breakthroughs of the last century could be wiped out: Previously curable diseases and infections could once again become untreatable; standard surgical treatments, including many oral surgical and dental procedures, could become too risky.

Fortunately, a recent discovery by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel has offered some hope.

The Tel Aviv team identified the precise means by which certain natural enemies of bacteria — a group of viruses known as bacteriophages — do their damage. The researchers isolated a single protein which the virus uses to carry out its attack. When injected into a bacterium, this protein essentially hijacks its host’s DNA in order to help the virus reproduce; the bacterium dies in this process. Dr. Udi Qimron, who led the research, explained that his work was based on the old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Because bacteria and bacterial viruses have co-evolved over billions of years, we suspected the viruses might contain precisely the weapons necessary to fight the bacteria,” Dr. Qimron said. “So we systematically screened for such proteins in the bacterial viruses for over two and a half years.” According to Dr. Qimron, the next step is for pharmaceutical companies to figure out how to deliver this protein to humans in the form of a drug. “Potentially, this protein could be the ideal antibiotic,” he said.