Some species of bacteria are stripping off their outer layers in an attempt to evade antibiotics and survive. It’s a reality that could explain why some infections keep coming back. According to researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, the bacteria are “undressing” and removing their cell walls – the very part of them that some antibiotics target. The cell walls of some bacteria are made from sugars and amino acids. While they give the bacteria shape and protection, these walls provide a weak spot that can be exploited by antibiotics. Penicillin, the first antibiotic to be discovered and the most widely used in the world, works by disrupting the cell wall and causing the bacteria to burst. The study, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, found that bacteria associated with recurring urinary tract infections in elderly patients slipped out of their cell walls to avoid the effect of the antibiotics. It’s the first time that research has shown bacteria using this method to survive antibiotic treatment and while not all survive – most get taken care of by the body’s immune system - it does offer some explanation as to why certain infections come back again and again. The discovery could pave the way for new treatments to be developed, including combination therapies that target both the bacteria’s cell wall and inner workings.
The humble garden snail could provide us with some ammunition in the fight against aggressive bacteria, according to two researchers from the United Kingdom. Intrigued how garden snails spend their lives sliding over dirt and coming into contact with deadly bacteria, yet don’t seem affected, Sarah Pitt, Ph.D. and Alan Gunn set out to discover why. It seems the answer lies in the mucus snails excrete. After analysing snail mucus, Pitt, principal lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Science at the University of Brighton, and Gunn, subject lead for biosciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, discovered four new previously unknown proteins. What’s more exciting is that two of these proteins appear to have strong antibacterial properties – especially against aggressive strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes dangerous lung infections in people who have cystic fibrosis. Speaking about the findings of their research, which appears in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, Pitt said: “In previous work, we found that the mucus consistently and convincingly inhibited the growth of one species of bacterium P. aeruginosa, a tough bacterium that can cause disease, but it did not seem to work against other bacteria. “So, in this study,we tried all the control strains of P. aeruginosa we had available in the lab here at the university as well as five strains taken from patients with [cystic fibrosis] who had lung infections with this bacterium.” The new discoveries could open up new possibilities in the fight against bacterial infections.
A British teenager has become the first person in the world to have a drug-resistant bacterial infection treated by genetically engineered viruses. Isabelle Holdaway, 17, was given just a 1% chance of survival after a double lung transplant to treat her cystic fibrosis left her with an intractable bacterial infection that could not be treated with antibiotics. Her arms, legs and buttocks had numerous big, black, festering lesions where the bacteria were pushing up through her skin. She finally ended up in intensive care after her liver began to fail. Every previous patient in Isabelle’s situation died – some within a year, despite aggressive treatment. Desperate for a solution, Isabelle’s mother researched alternative treatments online and came across phage therapy. It’s not new; doctors have been using it for nearly a century, but its use has been eclipsed by antibiotics because they are much easier to use. Isabelle’s care team at Great Ormond Street Hospital contacted Prof Graham Hatfull at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in the US, who had the world's largest collection of phages (approximately 15,000). Hatfull and his team identified three potential phages that would be effective in tackling Isabelle’s bacterial infection and genetically modified two of them to make them more effective. Isabelle was injected with the cocktail of phages twice daily and they were also applied to the lesions on her skin. Within just six weeks, a liver scan showed that the infection had essentially disappeared. Phage therapy involves injecting bacteria-killing viruses into a patient’s body which track down, infect and ultimately kill bacteria. The phages hijack the bacterial cell and turn it into a phage factory until the viruses burst out of the bacteria killing it in the process. While Isabelle’s fatal infection has not been completely cured, it is under control and she is beginning to lead a normal life. She still has two infusions of phages every day and is currently waiting for a fourth phage to be added to the mix, which will hopefully clear the infection completely.
Children are more prone to catching colds than adults. In fact, kids get around six to eight colds a year – that’s twice as many as adults. But what are the best remedies for youngsters with a common cold? Well, according to a review of over-the-counter treatments published in The BMJ, there’s little evidence that any of them work, and some, like decongestants, could actually do more harm than good. That’s because decongestants and combination drugs that contain decongestants can cause drowsiness, headaches, insomnia and upset stomach. Furthermore, if they are given to children under the age of 2, they can cause serious complications such as convulsions and rapid heart rate. In reality, there is no cure for the common cold. While it can cause irritating and uncomfortable symptoms, including a sore throat, cough, congestion, sneezing and a raised temperature, after a week or so, they usually go away on their own. So what’s the answer? Saline nasal washes, says Dr Rahul Chodhari, consultant paediatrician and spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. They can be applied several times a day, with zero side effects, and help to clear mucus from the nasal cavity, reducing congestion. Dr Chodhari advises that cough syrups are not recommended for children because they stop them coughing up mucus and getting rid of it. Also, because antibiotics only work to combat bacterial infections, they do nothing to relieve colds.
New figures show that rates of tuberculosis (TB) in England are at their lowest level in 35 years, having fallen by a third in the last six years. According to data from Public Health England, tuberculosis rates have declined by 38% since 2012. In fact, there was a 9.3% decline in 2017 alone, highlighting how the country’s efforts to eradicate the disease are proving effective. Improved diagnosis, treatment and awareness are being credited for the decline. However, despite the fall, England still has one of the highest rates of TB in Western Europe, with 5,200 people affected in 2017. Dr Sarah Anderson, head of the National TB Office at Public Health England, said: "People often think that TB is a Victorian disease that is no longer a problem in England, but in fact it still affects over 5,000 people a year and there is still a lot to do until the target to eliminate TB is met.” TB is a bacterial infection that primarily affects a person’s lungs and it is spread through coughs and sneezes. But despite its infectious nature, it is actually quite difficult to catch. Nevertheless, it can be fatal if left untreated. Another issue is that TB is becoming resistant to some of the major drugs used to treat it, which is why the BCG vaccine that offers protection against TB is recommended for babies, children and adults alike who are at risk of catching the disease.