To conflict the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, researchers are developing how one superbug bacteria adapts to fight with an antibiotic of last resort, hoping to find clues that can lengthen the drug's effectiveness.
Researchers at Rice University and the University Of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston ran experiments to track the biochemical changes that vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) underwent as they adapted to fight another antibiotic, daptomycin.
"We need to get to a platform where we can anticipate how these pathogens will become resistant to antibiotics so we can stay one step ahead of them," said Rice biochemist Youssef Shampoo, co-author of a study in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy that found VRE can develop resistance to daptomycin in more than one way.
The stakes are high. In 2014, the World Health Organization reported that antibiotic-resistant infections were on pace to kill 10 million people per year worldwide by 2050.
According to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, VRE is one of the nation's leading antibiotic resistance threats. The Centres for Disease control estimated Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci will infect some 30,000 people in the U.S. this year and kill 2,300 of them.
Daptomycin, an antibiotic that first became available in 2003, is one of the last drugs doctors can use to fight multidrug-resistant superbugs like VRE, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and glycopeptide-resistant enterococci (GRE).
Unfortunately, health officials documented cases of daptomycin resistance as early as 2005, and the number of cases is on the rise worldwide.
Shampoo said one of the principle findings of the study was that a specific strain of VRE, Enterococcus faecium, has an unusually diverse set of strategies for resisting antibiotics like daptomycin, and that diversity can make treatment of infections even more difficult.
It is believed that by understanding how these pathogens acquire resistance, we can produce advanced treatment strategies or new 'co-drugs' that target their ability to become resistant.
Co-drugs that target the evolution of resistance could be administered with antibiotics like daptomycin which help patients fight off infection and stem the spread of increasingly resistant strains of bacteria in hospitals.