Unique method could help fight antibiotic resistance

A new method developed by researchers at the University of Exeter could help decrease the prescription of antibiotics by estimating the drugs that could be effective in combating bacteria within a few minutes.

Unique method could help fight antibiotic resistance
The technique works by examining whether the fluorescent qualities of the antibiotics are taken up by bacteria. Image Credit: Dr. Stefano Pagliara, University of Exeter.

The new technique enables users to observe whether a bacterium could respond to antibiotic medications.

The study is now in the early stage of development, and the researchers believe that the tiny devices employed in this analysis would be based in clinics someday, decreasing the proportion of different antibiotic medications prescribed to patients.

The method works by analyzing whether bacteria have taken up the fluorescent qualities of the antibiotics. If that is the case, the pathogens will glow brighter under the microscope, indicating that the antibiotic has penetrated the membrane and likely to be effective.

Published in the Lab on a Chip Journal, the study may contribute to researchers’ efforts to bring down the prescription rates, and also allow the development of more effective antibiotics, to help combat the universal threat of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is known to be a crucial global threat. As these antibiotics increasingly fail to work, about 10 million people are expected to die every year of infections by 2050.

The novel method employs a unique microscope as well as a tiny device into which a bacteria sample is administered together with the antibiotic. So far, the researchers have utilized the ofloxacin antibiotic, which glows fluorescent under ultraviolet light.

Pathogens also glow upon taking up the antibiotic. But if they continue to remain dark, there is no chance that the drug would work and destroy the pathogens.

We’re really excited about the potential for this technique to make a meaningful reduction in prescribing, helping to fight the global threat of antibiotic resistance. At the moment, it can take days for clinicians to get a lab result, which involves growing bacteria, but there is still some guess work involved. Our technique could reduce the use of multiple antibiotics to try and fight a bacterial infection.”

Dr Stefano Pagliara, Study Lead Author and Biophysicist, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter

The experimental work for this study was conducted by Dr Jehangir Cama, an industry research fellow at the Living Systems Institute.

Our next step is to further develop this exciting new method by combining it with more advanced microscopy techniques, to see where exactly the antibiotics go when they enter the bacteria.”

Dr Jehangir Cama, Industry Research Fellow, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter

The researchers are now exploring ways to expand the method, by exploiting the fluorescent qualities of other kinds of antibiotics, so that these drugs can function in the same manner.

More research in this area has been financially supported by QUEX, an association between The University of Queensland in Australia and the University of Exeter. Headed by Dr. Mark Blaskovich, Director of the Centre for Superbug Solutions at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, the Queensland research team is creating fluorescent versions of other forms of antibiotics so that they can be verified in an analogous way.

I am enthused about the opportunities to improve our fundamental understanding of the interactions between antibiotics and bacteria and how this leads to antimicrobial resistance, by combining our novel antibiotic-derived probes with the cutting edge single cell analysis capabilities of the Exeter group.”

Dr Mark Blaskovich, Director of the Centre for Superbug Solutions, Institute for Molecular Bioscience

Journal reference:

Cama, J., et al. (2020) Single-cell microfluidics facilitates the rapid quantification of antibiotic accumulation in Gram-negative bacteria. Lab on a Chip. doi.org/10.1039/D0LC00242A.


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