Making Antibiotic Resistant Drugs Better

BOULDER, Colo. (KFSN) -- At least two million Americans will develop an antibiotic-resistant infection this year. Drugs that used to work like penicillin or amoxicillin, often don't anymore. These resistant infections are on the rise, and researchers say it's something that should concern all of us. Scientists are searching for ways to solve this ever-growing problem. What they're coming up with is promising.

Each year, 23,000 Americans die from an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Corrie Detweiler, Ph.D., a Microbiologist at CU Boulder said, "The days when you can give a patient an antibiotic, and you were pretty darn sure it was going to work are pretty much gone."

Bacterial infections that could once easily be cured now have the potential to kill. Detweiler's team wants to make antibiotics more effective. They searched through 14,000 compounds and found three that show promise.

"We've been able to find some chemicals, some compounds, that inhibit bacteria from pumping out antibiotics," said Detweiler.

Many bacteria have developed efflux pumps that pump out antibiotics meant to kill them. Detweiler's compounds block those pumps.

Detweiler said, "If we can inhibit those efflux pumps, then we essentially re-sensitize that bacterium to a particular antibiotic."

CU Boulder Neuroscientist Pamela Harvey, Ph.D., says students research thousands of compounds looking for new antibiotics.

"In general, one in 10,000 compounds tested will become a drug in the pharmacy for you," said Harvey.

For Harvey, the research is essential. It's also personal.

"My dad got pneumonia over the summer. This is a guy who rides motorcycles and goes on trips with his friends. Two weeks later, he passed away from an antibiotic-resistant strain of pneumonia," Harvey shared.

It's been a tough road, but she remains focused on her work.

Harvey said, "The problem is not going away. It's getting worse."

Last year, one of Harvey's students had a hit on one of the thousands of compounds under review. It's now under study to test its efficacy on a resistant form of salmonella that causes typhoid fever. Detweiler says there are simple steps we can take to reduce our risk of infection. That includes treating even the smallest of cuts with Neosporin or alcohol, and if you're given a course of antibiotics, it's essential to take them exactly as prescribed.
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