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New Polymer–Antibiotic Combo Targets MRSA

Treatment causes bacteria to burst

In the continuing fight against “superbugs,” scientists at the University of South Carolina have discovered a class of agents that appears to make some of the most notorious strains vulnerable to the same antibiotics that they once shrugged off. The report on the promising agents, called metallopolymers, appeared in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The authors note that the antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are responsible for a significant proportion of the infections that patients acquire in hospitals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MRSA usually spreads in hospitals when a health care provider with contaminated hands unknowingly passes the bug along to a patient. The infection can cause serious problems, such as pneumonia, and can lead to death.

One of the ways MRSA undermines conventional treatments is by producing enzymes that inactivate traditional antibiotics, such as penicillin. Scientists have been developing new agents to combat these enzymes, but so far these treatments have fallen short.

In the new report, researchers tested a recently discovered class of metallopolymers — large, metal-containing molecules — against several strains of MRSA. When paired with the same antibiotics MRSA normally dispatches with ease, the polymer–antibiotic combination evaded the bacteria’s defensive enzymes and destroyed their protective walls, causing the bacteria to burst. Moreover, the metallopolymers mostly left red blood cells alone, which suggests they might have minimal side effects.

“These discoveries could pave a new platform to design antibiotics and antimicrobial agents to battle multidrug-resistant bacteria and superbugs,” the researchers state.

Source: ACS; April 9, 2014.

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