Academic Researchers Trying To Figure Out Especially Sneaky Strains Of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Image courtesy of MeneerDijk

Lab tests are supposed to tell doctors and researchers which antibiotics will work against a given infection, but some bacteria are able to sneak around these tests. The bacteria appear to be susceptible to the last-line antibiotics that health care providers use against resistant superbugs, but a remnant survives and re-colonizes the patient once the antibiotic treatment is over.

A laboratory at Emory University exists to study particularly stubborn and sneaky bacteria, and the lab helps busy hospital labs with the problem of resistant bacteria. For example, Emory’s hospital lab sent over a strain of E. cloacae that had infected a patient who had recently received a kidney transplant.

The bacteria resisted multiple types of antibiotics, but appeared to be susceptible to last-line antibiotic colistin. At first. Then some bacteria survived, which showed that it had the terrifying MCR-1 gene that has led at least one expert to say that humanity’s medicine cabinet is now empty unless we can develop new antibiotics that will kill colistin-resistant bacteria.

“How could it be that these little primitive single-celled organisms could do all these terrible things to us?” the director of the Emory Antibiotic Resistance Center asked a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Bacteria might be tiny, but that means that they reproduce quickly and mutations that help them survive. The bacteria that infected the kidney transplant patient, for example, was genetically the same as bacteria that could be killed by colostin. Worse, attacking the resistant bacteria with the drug or with the immune system of an infected mouse somehow made the bacteria reproduce faster.

It’s not glamorous work, but if any institution is able to find the solution to antibiotic resistance, it will be labs like this one in universities all over the world.

Deadly Superbugs Can Masquerade as Ordinary Bacteria [Bloomberg News]