The phenomenon of bacterial resistance to antibiotics is worrying the scientific community, especially as developing effective antibiotics is becoming an increasingly difficult feat to achieve. Some researchers are currently concentrating on alternative methods in the fight against bacteria.
A group of researchers is working to “defang” bacteria by zeroing in on structures that are not necessary to their survival, but that play a very important role in their capacity to infect us. These researchers are targeting pili, which are structures that resemble microscopic hairs that grow on the surface of certain types of bacteria. Far from having an aesthetic purpose, these pili enable bacteria to cling to our cells and serve in the transmission of genetic materials from one bacterium to the other. Among the information transmitted: the recipe to resist antibiotic action.
E.Coli is an example of a type of bacterium that grows pili. In fact, it is this bacterium that causes close to 90% of all urinary tract infections in women. It is one of the most common infections contracted during a hospital stay, and the second most frequently contracted in the community. Some antibiotics have already lost their powers to fight this bacterium. There is great danger that those who are still effective are to suffer the very same fate in the future.
The discovery these researchers made essentially consists of making the bacterium bald without harming it. The product is a called a pilicide, or in other words, a pili killer. In losing its pili, the bacterium no longer has the capacity to invade or cling to host cells. It can continue to reproduce but is unable to cause infections. The body is therefore able to eliminate the bacterium by itself. E.Coli for example, can be eliminated through urination. With this mechanism, researchers believe that bacteria will be less susceptible to develop antibiotic resistance, as it does not threaten their survival. Bacteria would not feel endangered and therefore would not launch a counter-attack.
However, this research is still at the experimental stage. Scientists are currently refining their product to increase its potency and effectiveness. They are hoping to begin testing their most promising pilicides in animals in about a year.
Other bacteria also produce pili, such as the ones that cause plague, salmonellosis, and pneumonia. Pilicides could probably be used to treat these infections.
The advantages offered by pilicides do not end here! They could save the “good” bacteria that colonise the intestines, vagina, skin and mouth. The antibiotics we use today often have a large spectrum of action. In deed, they kill the bacteria that make us sick, but they also affect those that protect us against many infections. This is the phenomenon that explains diarrhea, vaginal yeast infections, skin infections caused by fungus and oral thrush that often develop during antibiotic treatments.
It will take many years for these pilicides to become available, providing the studies are conclusive. In the meantime, it is important to use antibiotics judiciously to limit the onslaught of bacterial resistance. You should not insist on being prescribed antibiotics to treat a cold, a sinusitis or bronchitis for example. These infections are most often caused by viruses that do not respond to antibiotic treatments.
When your physician prescribes antibiotics, you must respect the posology and follow the treatment to completion. Forgetting one dose may allow bacteria to start reproducing again. Premature abortion of a treatment, or non-adherence, will have permitted the elimination of the weakest bacteria; the strong ones will have survived. Meaning that when another infection comes up, antibiotics will have to fight even harder to eliminate them.
Each of us has the responsibility to help curb bacterial resistance to antibiotics. It is after all a matter of collective wellbeing!