going above and beyond
Feb 19, 2001
New antibiotic, found in the nose, could treat deadly infections

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New antibiotic, found in the nose, could treat deadly infections

German scientists credit bacteria in the humble human schnoz with producing an antibiotic that appears powerful enough to kill dangerous skin infections.
The antibiotic is produced by a type of staph bacteria found in about 10% of people's noses, according to a study published online Thursday in
Although many people associate bacteria with disease, the human body is actually home to trillions of beneficial bacteria that help us digest our food, synthesize vitamins and fight infections. Like a microscopic Game of Thrones, bacteria constantly battle for dominance against rival germs. Humans often benefit from this germ warfare, as beneficial bugs kill off many of the bad ones that could make us sick.

Some bacteria make their own chemical weapons, in the form of antibiotics, to thwart their rivals. For 70 years, humans have used these substances to treat infections. While most antibiotics come from bacteria that live in soil, scientists in recent years have found antibiotics in the human body, including one produced by beneficial bacteria in the vagina.
The discovery of an additional antibiotic in the nose suggests that these earlier findings weren't just flukes.
In fact, the human body could be a source of many new antibiotics, said study coauthor Andreas Peschel,a professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany, which has filed for a patent on the new antibiotic.
The nose-dwelling germ fighter arrives not a moment too soon.

Doctors and patients desperately need new antibiotics to replace ones that are losing their effectiveness, said Lita Proctor, program director of the Human Microbiome Project at the National Institutes of Health, who wasn't involved in the new study. Overuse of antibiotics has contributed to antibiotic resistance, in which bacteria evolve in ways that make them difficult or even impossible to kill, even with the strongest drugs.

At least 2 million people in the U.S. develop antibiotic-resistant infections each year and 23,000 people die from them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an especially alarming development, researchers have recently isolated bacteria in patients that are resistant even to a drug "of last resort," known as colistin, used on particularly dangerous infections when all else fails.
Many doctors now worry that we could be entering a "post-antibiotic age," in which people are at risk of dying from common infections and routine surgeries carry enormous risks.
Yet there are very few new antibiotics in the pipeline, Peschel said.

Antibiotics aren't easy to develop. Many experimental ones prove too toxic to use in humans, said David Weiss, director of the Emory Antibiotic Resistance Center in Atlanta. The last new class of antibiotics was released more than 30 years ago. Antibiotics approved in recent years have been similar to others already in use, making it easier for bacteria to become resistant to them, he said.
Drug companies have little economic incentive to invest in new antibiotics, which can take a decade and more than $1 billion dollars to develop. Antibiotics, which are typically taken for a week or so, are far less profitable than drugs taken daily for many years, such as cholesterol medications.

In tests on mice, researchers found that the new antibiotic, which they called lugdunin, could cure skin infections caused by a type of bacteria called MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is resistant to a variety of medications. In addition to the skin, MRSA also can infect the bloodstream and lining of the heart. Tests found that lugdunin also killed another dangerous type of bacteria called VRE, or vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.
Doctors haven't yet tested the new antibiotic in humans, Peschel said.
But the study hints at ways that studying the body's microbes, collectively called the human microbiome, could lead to new treatments for disease, said Kjersti Aagaard, an associate professor
at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The antibiotic discovery is "a wonderful observation" that "speaks to the power of innovation and sound scientific insights," Aagaard said. "When we regard the human body, as well as the world around us, as an elegant ecosystem, there will be endless wonders to be discovered at our fingertips, or the tip of our nose."


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