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Sea Sponge Extract Conquers Resistant Bacteria

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the soaking-it-in dept.

Medicine 132

Science News has an article on research into a compound found in a particular kind of sea sponge that seems to have the ability to restore antibiotics' effectiveness against resistant bacteria. The hope is that, since the compound is not itself deadly or even harmful to bacteria, it may skew the antibiotic-bacteria arms race in our favor. "Chemical analyses of the sponge's chemical defense factory pointed to a compound called algeferin. Biofilms, communities of bacteria notoriously resistant to antibiotics, dissolved when treated with fragments of the algeferin molecule. And new biofilms did not form. So far, the algeferin offshoot has, in the lab, successfully treated bacteria that cause whooping cough, ear infections, septicemia and food poisoning. The compound also works on... [MRSA] infections, which wreak havoc in hospitals. 'We have yet to find one that doesn't work,' says [one of the researchers]."

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132 comments

Respect (1)

kramulous (977841) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865323)

I hope the researchers take care with this and treat it with respect.

The last thing we need is for golden staph to be in the presence of this algeferin outside the therapeutic window and modify itself accordingly. GS is bad enough already, the last thing we (humans) want is for it modify itself off some oceanic super goo.

Re:Respect (1)

alexborges (313924) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865381)

We cant kill it as-is anyway, so kudos to this guys and keep it comming!

Re:Respect (1)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866823)

Well in addition to that I hope that this teaches us to respect the Earth's natural resources, the subtle ones as well as the bubbling black and shiny gold ones that we currently fight over like a bunch of heavily armed 5 year olds.

Re:Respect (1)

rfuilrez (1213562) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865383)

And the problem of perpetuating a bacterial-resistance arms race, in which bacteria rapidly develop countermeasures against new antibiotics, may be avoided entirely with the new compound. "Since the substance is nontoxic to the bacterium, its not throwing up any red flags," says Moeller.

Other than "doing something really funky that were excited about," researchers dont yet know how this compound interferes with bacterial resistance to antibiotics, says Moeller. The compound may sneak by bacterias sensors that trigger new ways to combat antibiotics. Bacteria continually treated with this compound for three months are still susceptible to antibiotics.

It would appear that bacteria don't modify itself? Obviously the research is still early, but hopefully this is a remedy to the situation that lasts for quite some time.

Re:Respect (4, Insightful)

Bertie (87778) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865429)

Yeah, they probably thought the bacteria would never come up with an answer to penicillin either.

They've been around an awfully long time, and there's a reason for that: nothing's beaten them yet. Our attempt at suppressing them has been thwarted in just a few decades - not even a blink of an eye on a biological timescale.

I wouldn't be crowing about having the little blighters licked just yet.

Re:Respect (5, Interesting)

thermian (1267986) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865623)

Yeah, they probably thought the bacteria would never come up with an answer to penicillin either.

Actually it didn't. Instead what happened was antibiotics were handed out like candy and people weren't made to complete their courses.

If you stop taking antibiotics before the whole course is complete, any remaining bacteria are those which have some resistance (but in the beginning not enough to survive a completed course). Multiply this by the millions of people who didn't complete their courses over the decades, and you have trouble.

Re:Respect (4, Informative)

Puff of Logic (895805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865967)

All true. However the antibiotic usage in humans is vastly outweighed by the antibiotic usage in livestock. One of my med-school courses cited an instance in...Denmark, I believe it was. The annual human consumption of an antibiotic came to something like 25kg that year. Consumption of an analogous antibiotic in livestock for that same year was something on the order of 25,000kg. Over-prescription of antibiotics for CYA or, more commonly, to patients who aren't satisfied until they've receive an antibiotic for their viral (sigh) infection is certainly a problem. Before we get too worked up over that, however, let's stop feeding the drugs to the damned cows, pigs, and chickens!

No Respect for Your Neighbors (1, Troll)

twitter (104583) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866795)

Animal use is bad but human suffering is worse and the main villain is "Intellectual Property" Law. An unstated argument here is that people distributing medicine and those who don't take their full course are somehow at fault. These arguments shift blame from people who profit from misery and blame the victims and those who would help.

Does it really make moral sense that farm animals are over treated and people end up with half treatments? Do you think that people really want to have less than proper medicine? The system is really screwed up and one of the main barriers are IP treaties that threaten countries that would make their own life saving drugs. Sure, you can point to WIPO exceptions for just this sort of problem, but reality is what you describe - livestock get better medicine than most people.

Warning (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26867539)

The user "twitter" is a twitter sockpuppet.

Re:No Respect for Your Neighbors (2, Insightful)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 5 years ago | (#26869979)

Alright, I'll bite.

An unstated argument here is that people distributing medicine and those who don't take their full course are somehow at fault.

Erm, that's because it is their fault. Nothing unstated about it. When getting antibiotics, the vast majority of people get either the full course or nothing at all - there's no in-between. If you choose not to take the full course after receiving it, it's your fault.

Of course there are plenty of people who can't get the drugs at all - but that's not germane to this conversation as such people are not contributing to drug-resistant bacteria.

Does it really make moral sense that farm animals are over treated and people end up with half treatments?

It must be fun building up so many straw men. That's the only reason I can figure that you have for doing it so often.

Do you think that people really want to have less than proper medicine?

Yes. As is evidenced by the fact that so many people think that because the "feel fine now" they don't have to finish their course of meds.

Re:Respect (1)

hercubus (755805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26869013)

good point. some soil scientists found resistant bacteria in the soil of farms just a few months after a particular antibiotic was released for farm use

and, oh yeah, antibiotics are approved for animal use years before they're approved for human use (in the USA). so by they time a new antibiotic is prescribed to humans its useful life has already been shortened

bacteria have about done me in several times already. we all have to go sometime but it gripes me that it'll be the greed of the cow people, and their customers of course, that'll speed my otherwise preventable end

Re:Respect (1)

Perf (14203) | more than 5 years ago | (#26868179)

Instead what happened was antibiotics were handed out like candy and people weren't made to complete their courses.

If you stop taking antibiotics before the whole course is complete, any remaining bacteria are those which have some resistance (but in the beginning not enough to survive a completed course). Multiply this by the millions of people who didn't complete their courses over the decades, and you have trouble.

20 years ago, the medical authorities proscribed 2 weeks worth of antibiotics. Later, it dropped to 10 days. Now, a 4 day proscription is normal.

Why?
I don't get it. It seems to conflict with what you just described.

Re:Respect (1)

bipbop (1144919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26869327)

This is anecdotal and perhaps not particularly interesting, but the last three times I've had antibiotics I was given ten days worth. I am in California FYI. And, I do not know the answer to your question, but I am interested.

Re:Respect (1)

BytePusher (209961) | more than 5 years ago | (#26869473)

In response to people's behavior(failure to take complete course) new types of antibiotics were developed, which my doctor calls "front loading." This means you take the antibiotic for four days, but it maintains effective levels in your body for perhaps the next 10. You can typically read all kinds of information that comes packaged with your prescription, such as describes serum levels per dose vs. time, warning signs for allergic reactions, serous side effects, etc.

Re:Respect (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 5 years ago | (#26869997)

Instead what happened was antibiotics were handed out like candy and people weren't made to complete their courses.

If you stop taking antibiotics before the whole course is complete, any remaining bacteria are those which have some resistance (but in the beginning not enough to survive a completed course). Multiply this by the millions of people who didn't complete their courses over the decades, and you have trouble.

20 years ago, the medical authorities proscribed 2 weeks worth of antibiotics. Later, it dropped to 10 days. Now, a 4 day proscription is normal.

Why? I don't get it. It seems to conflict with what you just described.

Good question. I've just been assuming that "they" are just getting better at making more effective antibiotics.

Re:Respect (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865915)

One thing I've always wondered is how bacteria's limited genetic code relates to antibiotics. Do the bacteria actively resist the antibiotics (implying there would be a point where we have more antibiotics than bacteria can have resistant genes for), or do the antibiotics actively take advantage of a 'glitch' in the bacteria genes (implying that it will be an endless war)? Am I even asking the right questions?

Re:Respect (1)

WEqR0lDRR6I (1452367) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866037)

Everything in life can be a glitch from a certain point of view, no life form is "perfect".

Antibiotics act on the differences(chemical, structural, signal-pathways, etc.) between bacteria and human/animal cells. As long as differences exist, it will be hypothetically possible on a very abstract level to produce antibiotics, but that's assuming we can engineer increasingly complex custom molecules...or find new species to plunder. ;)

Re:Respect (4, Informative)

Niedi (1335165) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866573)

Both exist. Bacteria can evade antibiotics in many ways, some active, some passive.

The easiest way to actively evade antibiotics is by developing efflux pumps which will pump out a certain drug or class of drugs (Tetracycline, beta-lactame).

The easiest way to passively evade antibiotics is through modification of the drug target which is a rare thing but can happen since bacteria are quite prone to mutations and also multiply like mad.

The thing that completely stupefies me is how that stuff is supposed to do away with resistances... Maybe it makes them barf their plasmids but still, I have no idea how that is supposed to work. Especially since some plasmids come with their own simple but effective measures against it.
That option would be pretty easy to verify though.

Re:Respect (1)

Hamsterdan (815291) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867147)

Unless it kills 100% of the bacteria, we're back to square one. The ones that don't get killed (natural mutation or just more resistant) will multiply and the new strain will be immune. That's the way evolution works...

Re:Respect (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867151)

It might, but so far it looks like they tested with only algeferin in the culture, so naturally it didn't apply any selective pressure. Once mixed with an antibiotic so that the combination actually does apply selective pressure, who knows?

We can hope that whatever the algeferin does can't be worked around but we just don't know yet.

Re:Respect (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867307)

It would appear that bacteria don't modify itself? Obviously the research is still early, but hopefully this is a remedy to the situation that lasts for quite some time.

Do bacteria "modify themselves" anyway? I thought the mechanism was that the bacteria that the technique is least effective on are the ones most likely to pass those characteristics to the next genration. If they've found a way to stop evolution working, this is news!

Re:Respect (3, Interesting)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865385)

As much as I'd like to see that, I doubt it will happen. There are too many doctors who prescribe antibiotics or everything. My wife had one prescribe one for her when she has the *flu*... I'm more worried about some jackass company patenting the compound.

Re:Respect (5, Funny)

wamerocity (1106155) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865399)

Well I propose that we do with it what we did with penicillin in the 50's, and infuse it into livestock feed, thereby ending the battle against bacteria forever. FOREVER!

Re:Respect (1)

kilodelta (843627) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865425)

I'd be interested to see how many of the bacteria it actually kills. If it eliminates all the bacteria then there's very little chance mutation can arise to work against it.

But you're right, the overuse of antibiotics got us in the mess we're in today.

Re:Respect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865727)

At some minimal concentration, it is not going to be 100% effective. Dump any antibacterial compound into the sewer system, and it will eventually become diluted enough to favor the evolution of resistant bacteria.

Re:Respect (1)

alexborges (313924) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867725)

Nothing that does not kill the host can do that, methinks.

Re:Respect (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865911)

Those doctors should be struck off for doing so.

Can people buy antibiotics over the counter in the USA? That's when the real problems start...

Re:Respect (1)

sleigher (961421) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866287)

No you cannot. At least not that I am aware of. You can buy lots of anti-bacterial products though.

Re:Respect (2, Interesting)

shrimppesto (766285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26868757)

Many of those anti-bacterial products actually do not contain antibiotics. Instead, they contain compounds that are germicidal and kill everything they touch.

The difference is critical. Antibiotics are compounds that selectively kill bacteria, causing less harm to human cells. They must therefore target some unique aspect of bacterial biology in their killing action; the specificity to which such targeting must take place is the reason why it's so easy for a bacteria to develop antibiotic resistance. "You want to bind to my protein X? Okay, I'll mutate it!" Done.

Germicidal compounds, on the other hand, kill everything they touch by mechanisms that are not bacteria-specific. An excellent example is rubbing alcohol, which basically rips the bacteria apart. Unfortunately, it also rips YOUR cells apart, which is why you can't give it to somebody to cure their infection.

Resistance to this latter category is not as much of a problem. It's exceedingly difficult to evolve, say, Purell resistance (active ingredient ethanol); the rare bugs that are resistant (e.g. spores) have been resistant long before Purell was around.

Re:Respect (1)

Entropy98 (1340659) | more than 5 years ago | (#26869677)

It's exceedingly difficult to evolve, say, Purell resistance (active ingredient ethanol);

I drink ethanol...
 
  mafia rpg game [mafia-rpg.com]

Salmonella (5, Informative)

vuo (156163) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865441)

It would be perfect against salmonella. Salmonella is extremely hazardous to public health, because it can reside dormant in the intestinal biofilm for practically indefinite periods (up to 25 years), and the carrier remains infectious all the time. A single bacterium can cause a potentially fatal illness, so in some jurisdictions, anyone who works with food is tested for salmonella. Unfortunately the only way to positively remove salmonella from a carrier is ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic generally considered an antibiotic of last resort. Its serious, potentially disabling side-effects include permanent damage of peripheral nerves, the intestine and spontaneous tendon rupture. A way to dissolve the bacteria from the biofilm would probably make them easier to eradicate with less dangerous antibiotics.

Re:Salmonella (4, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865515)

A way to dissolve the bacteria from the biofilm would probably make them easier to eradicate with less dangerous antibiotics.

Except for the very likely problem of when you dissolve biofilms, you create Yet Another Problem. OK, so somebody has found a novel compound that screws up bacterial metabolism. Let me, just of a moment, pop into cynic mode:

We have lots and lots of chemicals, simple and complex, that trash biofilms. And bacteria. Generic bleach at high concentrations comes to mind. Of course, you don't want to stick that in your veins.

The hard part is coming up with something you can put inside a human being (or test eukaryote of your choice, be it politician, lawyer or c. eleagans) and have it kill the bacteria and not the host.

/end cynic mode. Carry on.

Re:Salmonella (4, Interesting)

shrimppesto (766285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26868811)

It's probably not quite fair to call ciprofloxacin an antibiotic of last resort, considering how widely it has been used for the past decade or so. Its side effects are indeed serious and debilitating; however, these side effects are also extraordinarily rare, which explains why ciprofloxacin has been prescribed for everything from UTIs to sinusitis without half the population rupturing their tendons.

This is not to say that such side effects should be ignored, but rather that they should be considered in the analysis of risk vs. benefit. Owing to their rarity, it is quite often the case that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Overused? Yes, definitely, no doubt about it. But there are still many scenarios under which ciprofloxacin use can be justified, and many scenarios in which it is still the #1 drug of choice.

Re:Respect (1)

Bangmaker (1420175) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865507)

If it can kill MRSA that has already entered a person then it is good enough for right now. There will always be more ways to kill it in the future, but we still need help now.

Re:Respect (1)

Monkier (607445) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867595)

I think you left out a word:

Good thing we're not *done* destroying our environment so discoveries like this can continue to be made.

Flight of the dodo . (3, Insightful)

Ostracus (1354233) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865331)

"Science News has an article on research into a compound found in a particular kind of sea sponge that seems to have the ability to restore antibiotics' effectiveness against resistant bacteria. The hope is that, since the compound is not itself deadly or even harmful to bacteria, it may skew the antibiotic-bacteria arms race in our favor. "

Good thing we're not destroying our environment so discoveries like this can continue to be made.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (1)

Elite_Warrior (1118745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865409)

Actually we are destroying it. If the fuel(biological) consumption remains at the same rate sea temperature are going to be higher(2 to 4 degree Celsius)that will destroy good amount of marine ecology.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (1)

Majik Sheff (930627) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865421)

You might need to get your sarcasm detector recalibrated.

sarcastic prick (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865471)

Get off your fucking computer and stop creating pollution if you are so worried about it asshole.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865601)

The hope is that, since the compound is not itself deadly or even harmful to bacteria, it may skew the antibiotic-bacteria arms race in our favor.

This doesn't make sense. That's not how evolution works. Bacteria evolve to to find the most efficient (or sufficient) means of reproduction. Obviously anything that lowers their capacity to reproduce, directly damaging or not, will be evolved around.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865645)

Obviously anything that lowers their capacity to reproduce, directly damaging or not, will be evolved around.

They've had plenty of time to out-evolve it "in the wild", when it was being used as part of the sponge's self-defense mechanism. Given that that hasn't happened, why would you expect it to occur now?

Re:Flight of the dodo . (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865941)

Part of what drives evolution is a continual arms race between organisms that want to kill other organisms, and organisms that don't like to be killed. Right now this sponge has the upper hand over bacteria (that, admittedly, may not have killing the sponge as their primary goal but probably don't make life any easier) but that's no guarantee that bacteria won't evolve around it and gain the upper hand again, like what happened with people + antibiotics vs. bacteria.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (1)

mail2345 (1201389) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867193)

Then use something [wikipedia.org] that evolves faster than them.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26867011)

> They've had plenty of time to out-evolve it "in the wild", when it was being used as part of the sponge's self-defense mechanism. Given that that hasn't happened, why would you expect it to occur now?

You're so cuuuute! :)

Lets sit down for a moment, and try and come up with a reason why the bacteria wouldn't 'out-evolve' a chemical that occurs in sea sponge.

I got one! Maybe the bacteria don't give a crap about infecting 'sea sponge' and find infecting the other millions of species 'good enough'. Seriously, if you could pick something to infect and kill, would you honestly pick 'sea sponge'? :p

Re:Flight of the dodo . (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867471)

Well bacteria don't exactly get to choose their hosts. They have to make the most of their circumstances and if that means infecting a sea sponge then so be it.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26869779)

> Well bacteria don't exactly get to choose their hosts. They have to make the most of their circumstances and if that means infecting a sea sponge then so be it.

Then again, while there are species around that are much easier to infect than sea sponge, those species will be infected. If you can infect 99% of all species, there is extremely little selective pressure to 'learn' how to infect the other 1%. Widespread use of the chemicals in the 1% will create more selective presure to work around those.

Re:Flight of the dodo . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26868213)

rare enemy effect?

Re:Flight of the dodo . (1)

alexborges (313924) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867757)

That, or they perish.... forever.

Plenty species disapear!

"Yet" (4, Funny)

StaticEngine (135635) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865341)

'We have yet to find one that doesn't work,' says [one of the researchers]."

Oh, but when they do, then once again the vile bacteria will have the upper... psuedopod.

FWIW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865685)

Bacteria don't pave psuedopods - they lack the internal structure and size of eukaryotes like amoeba. What they do have are flagella and the type III secretory proteins they evolved from (think microscopic syringes).

Re:FWIW (1)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866925)

Well then they'll have the upper type III secretory protein.

Smart ass.

Re:FWIW (1)

StaticEngine (135635) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867231)

Somewhere, Gary Larson is weeping.

Yay! (2, Funny)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865397)

My hero [wikimedia.org] !

Re:Yay! (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867915)

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Antibiotic and yellow and porous is he!

phage medicine. (5, Interesting)

schwillis (1073082) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865423)

It's funny that phage medicine has been demostrated to be very effective to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria, yet it's never been adopted in western medicine. But something comes along that works in conjunction with anti biotics and it's hot stuff. Fucking pharmasutical companys.

Re:phage medicine. (2, Interesting)

Bertie (87778) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865481)

A quick scour of the web has thrown up some interesting reading on that topic. I never realised bacteriophages were used in medicine at all. Seems like the West's just forgotten about them. Thanks.

Re:phage medicine. (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865533)

yet it's never been adopted in western medicine.

Easy business model to "monetize" something out of a chemical plant... trademarks, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, all to protect the investment.

How go you do this with "sponge juice"? I'm guessing they'd have to completely switch business models and try to run it like a fishery or fish canning factory or something?

I would not expect the pharmaceutical industrial complex to rally around this new idea.

It would be like if someone proved orange juice cures colds, or HFCS causes obesity, there's no way to make money out of that interesting but unprofitable knowledge.

Re:phage medicine. (2, Insightful)

JDevers (83155) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865575)

Oh, but there is plenty of money. The new chemical does NOT kill bacteria, it allows antibiotics to work better. There are already LOTS of chemicals like this (penicillinase inhibitors etc), just none that are nearly this promising and I assure you that a LOT of pharma dollars are spent trying to find new chemicals that allow antibiotics to work better. They would much rather sell medicine that is already developed than spending tens of millions developing something that will only return a few more tens of millions before being rendered worthless. This allows a lot of that past knowledge to be reused.

Re:phage medicine. (2, Insightful)

schwillis (1073082) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865579)

They make money because this doesn't kill the bacteria, it disolves their biofilms and lowers their resistance to anti-biotics, so if they invest in harvesting and processing sea sponges for this substance, and trying to figure out how to synthesize it, they are profiting off the selling of the sea sponges, and an increase in sales of anti-biotics to follow up the treatment.

Re:phage medicine. (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865731)

It's funny that phage medicine has been demostrated to be very effective to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria, yet it's never been adopted in western medicine. But something comes along that works in conjunction with anti biotics and it's hot stuff. Fucking pharmasutical companys.

You're overselling phage therapies.
My understanding is that phages are usually specific to a strain or two of [bacteria].

This new compound is (so far) effective in sensitizing all bacteria.
If you don't see the difference in value, then there's nothing I can say to convince you.

Re:phage medicine. (4, Informative)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867315)

That's my understanding as well. It's typically necessary to culture the patient's infection and then try dozens of bacteriophages against it to find just the right one.

Still, the technique does seem to have merit and should probably be in use now except that there's no way to monitize it and so it goes unresearched.

Re:phage medicine. (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865861)

antibiotics were heavily in use in the west while the east had to develop alternate methods of attacking bacteria. now that antibiotic resistance is becomming a major problem in the west, bacteriophages may be used more often on *surface ailments*. THe reason being that the body's immune system attacks the phages when used internally.

Re:phage medicine. (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866333)

As far as I understand, the problem with bacteriophages is that they're highly specialized. A specific phage virus only work against a few specific strains of bacteria, so you need to figure out exactly what strain of bacteria the person has before you can treat it, which can be difficult in many cases, whereas a broad spectrum antibiotic doesn't require that.

Re:phage medicine. (4, Informative)

Guppy (12314) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866649)

It's funny that phage medicine has been demostrated to be very effective to treat antibiotic resistant bacteria, yet it's never been adopted in western medicine.

Well, you have to consider the specific issues surrounding phage therapy as well. Two similar-looking strains of bacteria can have very different phage susceptibility profiles -- an issue similar with antibiotic resistance, but my impression is that a strain match is much more of an issue with phage therapy, as each one is like a extremely "narrow spectrum" antibiotic. This is both good and bad, as it avoids collateral damage to "friendly" bacteria, but requires considerable time and expertise to get the match right -- the expertise needed to effectively implement phage therapy effectively is pretty high.

In an epidemic, you probably are looking at just one strain of bacteria going around, so is less of a problem (I have heard phage treatment works well versus something like, say, Cholera). However, for general cases, you end up needing to have a large library of phages on-hand (this is probably not an issue for centralized medical systems, but won't work well for an independent family doctor or suburban pharmacy). On the positive side, phages constantly co-evolve with their bacterial hosts, allowing you to overcome resistance by updating your library.

A "cocktail" would allow you to dispense with needing a large library, or having to get as detailed a susceptibility profile each time. However, there is another problem, that this solution makes worse -- your immune reaction against the phages. Very quickly after your initial encounter with a phage, you will likely develop a response against it (and probably relatives of that phage too). So the long-term practicality of phage treatment is an issue too.

Re:phage medicine. (3, Informative)

trenobus (730756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867397)

Phage therapy involves a lot of labor in isolating a non-symbiotic phage for a particular bacterial strain, and then growing enough of them to give the patient a dose that will not be negated by their immune system. To really be practical, this process would need to be automated.

Phages are specific, which is a disadvantage economically, as another poster noted. But specificity is an advantage medically, as it means you don't need to wipe out all of the "good bacteria" along with the bad. This is particularly important when the bad bacteria are antibiotic resistant and are in competition with the good bacteria.

An enlightened society would be developing both antibiotic and phage therapies. But then, an enlightened society would be different from ours in so many ways.

Re:phage medicine. (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867707)

Phage therapy has shown itself to be a viable treatment option, especially in Russia and other former Soviet countries where research and development costs were sunk and paid for long ago by the communists. However, there are many drawbacks to phage therapy which can make their use difficult (and particularly so inside the body). First, phages are uniquely in tune with the bacteria they attack, meaning that each phage has to be selected based upon the type of bacteria that they target in the infection. Second, mainting large populations of viable phages on hand requires corresponding large quantities of active bacteria in order to breed more phages for needed treatments, both of which require large factory like digesters and other equipment which is costly and doesn't scale as well as synthetic chemical antibiotics. Third, when infections enter the body the phages will be attacked just like every other invader by the immune system of our bodies, helping the bacteria to continue the infection. Phage therapy is not popular in the west because it is less practical, not because it isn't effective.

Quick! Feed it to the Cows! (1)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865439)

Or the chickens and pigs.

Good medicine is only for responsible races. I wonder what we'd actually do with a second chance. If we blow it, I'd be tempted to just deliberately poison the water. Oh, wait. . .

-FL

Great news (5, Insightful)

Bertie (87778) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865451)

Now can we be a bit more careful with it this time? No attempts to coat the planet in a thin layer of the stuff, please. The loss of the best weapons against disease we've ever found is not a fair price to pay for cheaper meat. Hopefully we've learned that lesson, although every time I see a doctor prescribe antibiotics just to get someone out of their surgery, I despair a little.

US Hospital procedures are also to blame (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865537)

Aa few years ago I sat outside the entry doors to an ICU where a relative was lying. I sat there for many days, and many hours.

I observed every single nurse stop and scrub at the scrub station which was located near the ICU entry doors. I observed maybe
one doctor out of thirty doctors scrub at the station. Most doctors walked right through the doors and did not scrub.

You can draw your own conclusions about this, but it seems obvious that things weren't being done in a consistent manner,
and I've been told by some European doctor buddies that this
sort of lax behavior in matters of sterile procedures is NOT tolerated in German hospitals.

So, magic bullets are great, but what we really need, in the US at least, is a change in the way the medical "profession" behaves. After what I saw with my own eyes, I can't say the conduct I observed was what I'd call professional, and it will be a cold day in hell before I allow myself to be admitted as a patient in the hospital at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Re:US Hospital procedures are also to blame (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867041)

It sounds like your subject line isn't quite right: what you actually meant to say was "lack of enforcement of US hospital procedures are also to blame", since we can guess (by the nurses' behavior) that hospital policy is to scrub, it just wasn't being enforced.

Re:US Hospital procedures are also to blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26867703)

"It sounds like your subject line isn't quite right: what you actually meant to say was "lack of enforcement of US hospital procedures are also to blame"

I am the original poster. You may be correct in your inference about the hospital policy. Or, maybe the nurses just care more. I honestly don't know what the hospital policy is. However, I believe that given the fact that a patient is already in bad enough shape to be in the ICU in the first place, it shouldn't require enforcement for doctors to take 30 seconds and scrub. As some of you may know, the Hippocratic Oath is a serious thing, and "first, do no harm" is not some kind of joke.

By the way, not a single doctor I saw went through those
doors running, so that indicates to me that they weren't skipping the scrub because an emergency was in progress - they were skipping the scrub for some other reason, and I cannot imagine
their behavior could be justified when lives are on the line. If you surmise I didn't think too much of their behavior, you would be correct. I doubt very much that UNC is the only hospital in the US with such behavior, but that doesn't in any way excuse it.

Re:US Hospital procedures are also to blame (1)

shrimppesto (766285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26868695)

I assume that by "scrub" you mean handwashing?

You are correct that enforcement of standards is problematic in the US. You are also absolutely correct that it cannot be justified. However, the issue is not as superficial as it seems -- try washing your hands every 30 minutes for an entire day, and you will see for yourself the reason so many doctors are reluctant to do it.

In better news, the advent of foam hand cleaners (which actually have been shown to have better disinfectant properties than soap & water) has increased handwashing compliance dramatically, and efforts are continuing in this area. Some hospitals have excellent "foam compliance" rates; others do not. Unfortunately, the only thing prompting a hospital to work toward better compliance right now is their own good will, which is not good enough -- not in the least because working toward better compliance costs a lot more money than one would think, and no one has much of that right now. Regulatory agencies need to be involved; efforts to improve care need to actually receive funding; and, both incentives and consequences need to be present in order to promote such change. Atul Gawande's book entitled "Better" provides an excellent summary of the problems standing in the way of such much-needed changes in medicine. We need to fix these problems.

Going back to the topic of antibiotic resistance, I think it is necessary to point out that antibiotic overuse is NOT a phenomenon that is limited to the United States. In fact, over the past decade, fluoroquinolone (a class of antibiotics) usage rates in Europe have far exceeded their (already excessive) usage in the United States (hard to believe, but true) -- and lo and behold, fluoroquinolone resistance is now emerging everywhere. Even worse are the many countries in which antibiotics are readily available over-the-counter; worse yet is the EXTENSIVE (mis)use of antibiotics in the agricultural industry. Responsibility for the problems we face are by no means limited to the United States.

Some patients must take part of the blame as well. As another commenter mentioned, not finishing antibiotics is a major reason behind the development of resistance. Pediatricians are also constantly pressured by parents to prescribe antibiotics, with parents threatening to take their kids elsewhere. Similar pressures are also seen in adult practice -- prescribe someone with a mild pneumonia five days of azithromycin, and you would be surprised how often the patient asks for (by name) a two-day course of levofloxacin instead (simply put, a 'more potent' antibiotic). To be fair, doctors also have a responsibility not to give into these requests, and persuasive communication is something that medical schools are trying to place more and more emphasis upon. In any case, one cannot deny the effect that these patient requests have.

No drug is a magic bullet, because bacteria evolve; this is Darwinian evolution, and we can't stop it. It is curious that the media treats antibiotic resistance as a new problem, when it is in fact a problem that has existed ever since we began to use antibiotics. It will take a major paradigm shift in the way we combat microbes in order to arrest this progression of new drugs and new bugs resistant to new drugs. However, until we understand more about the mechanism of the agent described in the article, it will be difficult to say if this is truly such a dramatic paradigm shift.

Wrong name (5, Informative)

MoellerPlesset2 (1419023) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865543)

The compound is called ageliferin.

Re:Wrong name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26867009)

The compound is called ageliferin.

+5 Informative? Slashdot's mods are gullible today.

Re:Wrong name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26867467)

So is the journal Science [sciencemag.org] too I guess.

Tartar control (4, Interesting)

hyc (241590) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865551)

I wonder if this stuff will dissolve dental biofilms. Would be cool to finally have a simple, 100% effective treatment that totally prevents plaque, gum disease, cavities... Tho I suppose if it's that good, the ADA will bury it.

Yay for Mankind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865559)

Found another life form to abuse for our own benefit. Aren't human beings just great?

Re:Yay for Mankind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865629)

Please, feel free to stop abusing other life forms for your own benefit.

Good luck surviving without food, BTW.

Re:Yay for Mankind (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26865643)

If this world is hell, we'd be a race of pit fiends.

Re:Yay for Mankind (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865847)

Probably still a better fate for them than cleaning utensils.

Re:Yay for Mankind (1)

sunwolf (853208) | more than 5 years ago | (#26869499)

Right? I hope SETI comes up with something soon. I can't wait to find out what they taste like!

I, for one, welcome our new spongy overlords (0)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865561)

you knew it was coming

Adam? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865565)

Let me guess, to get more of it, we need to implant the sponges in little orphan girls?

An abridged history of the future (3, Insightful)

Repton (60818) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865759)

T+10 years: government bodies approve sea-sponge-enhanced antibiotics for use on humans.

T+12 years: patients start telling their doctor: "My friend told me regular antibiotics don't work. I want sea-sponge antibiotics!

T+17 years: sea-sponge resistent bacteria start to emerge because of patients not completing their courses.

Re:An abridged history of the future (2, Insightful)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866627)

Fortunately, patents expire in seventeen years so there's no loss here!

Good News For Diabetics (1)

hardburlyboogerman (161244) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865767)

and myself included.I have suffered with 2 MRSA infections in the past year.
Hope they can get this to the public ASAP.

Ttreated? (1)

fava (513118) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865857)

The subhead states "Bacteria treated with compound lose their resistance"

My question is what is treated?

If treated means "immersed in a strong bath of the compound for 2 weeks" then the compound may not be very practical. If treated means "a small dose included with the antibiotic" then the treatment is very practical.

The fact that the article was not very specific suggests its not the latter.

Well of course they can soak any thing up... (1)

freeasinrealale (928218) | more than 5 years ago | (#26865893)

...they ARE sponges after all....

But the bottom line is (1)

dangle (1381879) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866111)

that it is not clear that intelligence is the best solution to the question as to how to best propagate life. We've spend generations understanding how bacteria help and harm us, and have created more and more intellectual defenses and offenses to protect us from their harmful effects. Nevertheless, their unintelligent brute force efforts have always bested our best efforts (or we have acted to undermine our own successes). We may think that we are the dominant form of life on this planet, but billions upon billions of microorganisms would beg to differ.

Re:But the bottom line is (1)

amRadioHed (463061) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867565)

They would beg to differ, except they can't beg since they aren't self-aware. I'll take my not so prolific yet sentient existence any day.

Biofilms (5, Insightful)

Guppy (12314) | more than 5 years ago | (#26866279)

Ok, besides the mis-spelling of "ageliferin" (for those wondering why Google's not bringing up much)...

This is pretty big, but it's not coming out of nowhere. I'm not too familiar with this particular compound, but it appears to be a bio-film breaker -- most (but not all) of which work by disrupting quorum sensing [wikipedia.org] . What's exciting about this particular example is both its potency and apparent non-toxicity.

If suitable for use in humans, you can expect this to dramatically improvement treatment of various types of infections involving biofilm-forming bacteria -- you find these a lot in Cystic Fibrosis patients, immunocompromised patients, and various infections of catheters and implanted items and such.

Gross Ignorance (1)

Cyanara (708075) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867077)

I was once killing time outside a chemist in a shopping centre. In doing so I started reading a pamphlet advertising a new probiotic, as I figured they might be useful to me. However, as it turned out, the pamphlet went to great lengths to explain that any competent doctor would (successfully) treat a person with the flu with antibiotics. The idea of ingesting live organisms from a company that fails high school biology has me pretty worried to say the least.

Re:Gross Ignorance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26867903)

There are so-called "anti-viral antibotics" that work on influenza.

Unlike almost all viruses, there are antiviral antibiotics which can block "growth" (actually reproduction) of influenza viruses. They are most helpful very early in a case of flu; once you have a few million of the bugs in you the antivirals don't do much good.

There are four antiflu antivirals available at present. Two of these -- amantidine and rimantadine -- prevent the virus particles from taking off their outer coats (really!). Since the virus can't infect a cell without shedding the outer coat, it can't reproduce. These medicines work only on influenza A viruses. The other two -- zanamivir and oseltamivir -- block an enzyme called neuramidase (the N in the antigen code, by the way)on the surface of the virus, which reduces the number of new virus particles released by an infected cell. Since both influenza A and influenza B have neuramidase on their surface (they have to, to do their thing) both A and B can be blocked by zanamivir or oseltamivir.

All of these medicines, when properly used within the first 48 hours of illness, can reduce the severity of flu inefction, as well as how long you stay infected (by about 24 hours, but every little bit helps). They will also lessen the chance that someone else may get the flu from you. Three of these medicines (the odd one out is zanamivir, which has to be inhaled -- the others are pills or capsules that you swallow) have been shown to block transmission of the flu from person to person. This would be very helpful if we indeed run into a flu pandemic.

http://www.drreddy.com/shots/flu.html [drreddy.com]

UNPatent (1)

bigattichouse (527527) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867141)

I hereby unpatent adding algefarin to toothpaste to reduce bacterial films in plaque and tartar. hah - take that.

Clean bacteria are more susceptable to penicillin (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#26867815)

So, after the bacteria got a sponge bath, penicillin can kill them. Poor things. Taking a shower can be dangerous.

Algeferin = 0 hits in NCBI Entrez (1)

clayski (214528) | more than 5 years ago | (#26868467)

Whoa - This compound they are claiming all these properties for - algeferin - is apparently unknown to the Scientific Literature. What we are debating here is one poster at a regional conference by a graduate student, that shows a sponge extract inhibits a few types of bacteria in laboratory cultures.

Re:Algeferin = 0 hits in NCBI Entrez (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26869463)

See previous posts stating the correct spelling is ageliferin.

What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26868969)

So,

When the bacteria eventually develop a resistance to this, now we're going to wipe out an entire species of sponges?

I just love how we solve one technical problem by shooting ourselves in the foot in other arenas (environmental protection).

Good Bacteria ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26870065)

'We have yet to find one that doesn't work,' says [one of the researchers]."

If it works on all bacteria, what are the chances our hundreds (or is it more than that) of 'good bacteria' don't get destroyed in the process ?

Is the effect of the ageliferin reversible ? Is there a potential for it to be made specific to one type of bacteria (which would mean we would need to culture the bacteria we want to destroy anyway) ?

And finally, are the answers to these questions in the article ? Just woke up, too early for me to read it...

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