The global public health threat of antibiotic resistance has made many existing antibiotic treatments ineffective, but a new study could provide a creative solution to the growing problem. In a study published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia re-analyzed an old and largely forgotten antibiotic. Discovered 40 years ago, the drug could potentially take on resilient superbugs.
Octapeptin has long been considered an obsolete antibiotic by medical science, but the researchers believe it could potentially replace a so-called “drug of last resort” called colistin. These are drugs given to patients only when all other treatment options have been exhausted without success. Over time, however, the bacteria colistin is meant to treat have developed increasing resistance to it, rendering the last resort ineffective. Researchers hope that octapeptin, a relic of past medicine though it may be, could be revived and reworked as a new drug.
In discussing the re-analysis of octapeptin, Matt Cooper from the University of Queensland in Australia said to Science Alert that “Given the very few researchers left in this field now, and the sparse pipeline for new antibiotics, we’ve used modern drug discovery procedures to re-evaluate its effectiveness against superbugs.”
Octapeptin is uniquely capable of serving as a replacement for colistin, primarily because the two drugs are structurally similar. Octapeptin has also been shown to be especially effective against gram-negative bacteria, a type of bacteria that are notoriously difficult to treat. In addition to its structural similarities and relative effectiveness, researchers believe octapeptin may prove to be superior to colistin, and even less toxic.
Over the last 30 years, antibiotic resistance has been of growing concern, reaching public health crisis levels in many parts of the world. Despite these urgent circumstances, only one new class of antibiotic has emerged. As such, the University of Queensland researchers are hoping that by re-analyzing the older antibiotic and introducing it as a superior alternative once colistin fails, they will at least have provided another weapon in our arsenal; potentially, a very powerful one. The team’s creative solution could also inspire other research that looks to repurpose old, forgotten about drugs — or even create brand new ones — that could be stockpiled for the ongoing fight against antibiotic resistance.
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Technological innovation tends to unfold exponentially and ruthlessly; whenever a new technology takes over, an old one falls out of popular usage and becomes obsolete. For example, once email became adopted by the vast majority of the working world, snail mail became a nostalgic relic of the past (for most individual communications). By the time Blu-ray discs gave us a platform for high-definition video, VHS tapes were long dead. It’s hard to predict what technology will next go obsolete, since many soon-obsolete technologies are current mainstays in daily life and phase-outs tend to be gradual, fading out almost imperceptibly. However,…
I’m putting the liars on notice.
The most underappreciated application for the combination of augmented reality (A.R.) and artificial intelligence (A.I.) is persistent lie detection.
Smartphones and smart glasses will soon support apps that show you in real time whether the person you’re talking to is telling the truth or lying.
Imagine how that will affect business meetings, sales presentations, job interviews and department status updates.
(Not to mention political speech. Some 35 years ago, late-night talk show host Johnny Carson imagined what it would be like if politicians were hooked up to lie detectors.)
No More Heart Transplants
Around the world, lists of patients in need of an organ transplant are often longer than the lists of those willing (and able) to donate — in part because some of the most in-demand organs for transplant can only be donated after a person has died. By way of example, recent data from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) showed that the number of patients waiting for a heart transplant in the United Kingdom has grown by 162 percent in the last ten years.
Now, 50 years after the first successful heart transplant, experts believe we may be nearing an era where organ transplantation will no longer be necessary. “I think within ten years we won’t see any more heart transplants, except for people with congenital heart damage, where only a new heart will do,” Stephen Westaby, from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, told The Telegraph.
Westaby didn’t want to seem ungrateful for all the human lives saved by organ transplants, of course. On the contrary, he said that he’s a “great supporter of cardiac transplantation.” However, recent technological developments in medicine may well offer alternatives that could save more time, money, and lives.
“I think the combination of heart pumps and stem cells has the potential to be a good alternative which could help far more people,” Westaby told The Telegraph.
An Era of Artificial Organs
Foremost among these medical advances, and one that while controversial has continued to demonstrate potential, is the use of stem cells. Granted, applications for stem cells are somewhat limited, though that’s down more to ethical considerations more than scientific limitations. Still, the studies that have been done with stem cells have proven that it is possible to grow organs in a lab, which could then be implanted.
Science has also made it possible to produce artificial organs using another technological marvel, 3D printing. When applied to medicine, the technique is referred to as 3D bioprinting — and the achievements in the emerging technique have already been quite remarkable.
Thus far, scientists have successfully 3D-bioprinted several organs, including a thyroid gland, a tibia replacement that’s already been implanted into a patient, as well as a patch of heart cells that actually beat. All of these organs were made possible by refinements to the type of bioink; one of many improvements to the process we can expect to see in the years to come, as there’s now an institution dedicated to advancing 3D bioprinting techniques.
Other technologies that are making it possible to produce synthetic organs include a method for growing bioartificial kidneys, the result of a study in 2016.
For his part, Westaby is involved in several projects working to continue improving the process: one uses stem cells to reverse the scarring of heart tissue, which could improve the quality of life for patients undergoing coronary bypass. Westaby is also working on developing better hardware for these types of surgical procedures, including inexpensive titanium mechanical heart pumps.
Together with 3D bioprinting such innovations could well become the answer to donor shortages. The future of regenerative medicine is synthetic organs that could easily, affordably, and reliably be printed for patients on demand.
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