The force is strong with these ones: Drugs that make superbugs 'as harmless as a naked Darth Vader' offer hope of a cure
Treatment disarms the bacteria, allowing body's immune system to take over the fight
12:04 GMT, 24 August 2012
A drug that renders superbugs defenceless like a 'naked Darth Vader' could offer a breakthrough cure, researchers have said.
Rather than trying to kill bacteria outright, Universit de Montral researchers have discovered the resistant bacteria can be tackled with a treatment that weaken them, allowing the body's immune system to take over the fight.
Dr Christian Baron, the study's lead author and Professor at the Department of Biochemistry, said: 'To understand this strategy one could imagine harmful bacteria being like Darth Vader, and the anti-virulence drug would take away his armor and lightsaber.
Fighting the dark side: The drug makes superbugs as harmless as a 'naked Darth Vader'
'A naked Darth Vader would be an easy target and similarly, pathogenic bacteria without their virulence factors would be rendered harmless and eliminated by our immune system.'
Virulence factors are what make certain bacteria harmful to our bodies and differentiate them from most bacteria that live on our body or inside the intestinal system, which are harmless or in some cases even useful for us.
Dr Baron's research group will publish an article outlining the details of their findings tomorrow in Chemistry & Biology.
Infectious diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria were a major scourge of mankind, but thanks to the introduction of antibiotics beginning in the middle of the 20th century, most bacterial infections were largely controlled.
It was a widely held belief that biomedical research had largely won the battle against these diseases.
However, as antibiotics kill by targeting the essential cell functions of most (not always all) bacteria, this leads to survival of the most adaptable.
Dr Baron said: 'Bacteria have the capacity to develop resistance to antibiotics and they transfer this capacity to their offspring and to other bacteria.
Superbug: The anti-virulence drugs could help beat bacteria such as Clostridium difficile
'As a consequence, resistance began to emerge among the bacteria soon after the introduction of antibiotics.
'In their worst forms, “superbugs” have emerged, those resistant to all but a few or even to all antibiotics.'
Dr Baron's team has discovered small molecules that target proteins in a biological system (a type IV secretion system) that is required for many bacteria to be harmful.
'As if we were pulling on a loose thread in Darth Vader's cape, we have found a way to unravel the molecular details of the binding of these molecules to a target protein known as VirB8, a key part of the virulence mechanism of human and animal pathogenic Brucella species of bacteria,' Dr Baron explained.
The strategy has many advantages since resistance to such treatments would likely be slow or might not even occur. Virulent bacteria could be rendered as harmless as those that live in our gut.
The concept of anti-virulence drugs still has to be proven in the clinic, but could emerge as formidable weapons as doctors seek ways to fight ever-evolving bacteria.