Microbiologists and hospital infection control teams are intensifying efforts to identify and control infections of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Now comes news of a new tool that can provide another way to control such infections.

Timothy Lu, a Harvard Medical School student and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ph.D. recipient, has found a way to use bacteriophage-viruses that infect bacteria cells but not human ones-to boost the effectiveness of antibiotics. This development could prove instrumental to conquering the problem of antibiotic-resistant drugs, such as methacillin-resistant Staphylococus aureas, which causes 94,000 cases of life-threatening infections among hospital patients each year.

Lu has engineered bacteriophage to cut through biofilm-the slick, protective coating that covers bacteria-and to seek out the gene mutations that create antibiotic resistance. The bacteriophage then destroy the resistance mechanisms, enabling antibiotic drugs to perform better. The combination of engineered bacteriophage and antibiotics have the potential to eliminate nearly 30,000 times more bacteria than antibiotics alone.

Lu received the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize of $30,000 for inventing the bacteriophage platform. He is developing a secondary use of the platform that would allow bacteriophage to kill off deadly biofilms that attach themselves to food processing equipment and medical instruments.

The success of Lu’s invention could spell out a much better prognosis for patients who are discovered to have methacillin-resistant Staphylococus aureas (MRSA) based on confirmation by hospital-based laboratory tests. Laboratories always welcome medical advancements that make a positive result from a laboratory test less devastating/life-threatening to patients. Lu’s new technology may have applications in the treatment of numerous other superbugs and antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains.

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