Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Future of Disease Fighting

Discover magazine recently published a brief list of five coming advances in antibiotics that reveals some interesting—and possibly life-saving—bio-technology on the horizon.

Some of these, such as phages and alligator blood, were not new to me. Phages have been studied for years, but they have certain drawbacks, such as the fact that every distinct strain of a bacteria requires its own phages. So not only would the doctor need to know that you have a staph infection, he or she would need to know exactly which strain of staph in order to use the right phages. Alligator blood and frog skin, though, are rather interesting. Both of these critters inhabits swampy areas that tend to have much higher concentrations of pathogens, and they have evolved defense mechanisms to protect themselves. Now scientists are working on ways to bring those same defense mechanisms to people.

Synthetic antimicrobial peptides have a lot of promise, and may be one of the first on this list to make it into commercial use. After all, they are based on natural peptides, but they are more effective and cheaper to produce. Plus, in a series of tests, the synthetic peptides (called peptoids) wiped out all six bacterial cultures to which they were exposed.

Finally, I'm fascinated by the discovery that cholesterol-lowering drugs may be useful in battling bacteria. And, when given to mice which were then infected with MRSA, the drugs showed a 98 percent reduction in bacteria concentrations versus mice not given the drugs. Good news for me, since I'm on cholesterol medication.

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