Island medics believe some prescription medicines could stand in for antibiotics
By Ian White
A RESEARCH team at Galveston’s UTMB campus has identified almost 100 approved drugs including an antidepressant that could be reassigned to treat antibiotic-resistant diseases like plague, salmonella and a form of colitis.
If further research proves the team’s theories correct, almost two million people who are infected with illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year in America could be treated by “non-antibiotic therapeutic drugs already approved for other purposes”, UTMB said on Monday.
According to mortality rates recorded by CDC, the federal centers for disease control and prevention, that could save the lives of at least 23,000 people a year in this country alone.
The researchers, led by professor Ashok Chopra and graduate student Jourdan Andersson, are now working to establish how the drugs fight the diseases. Because they’re not antibiotics, they do not attack the bacteria that cause the diseases and Chopra believes they could either be reducing the bugs’ virulence or “affecting host proteins or genes so that the bacteria cannot use them to reproduce”.
Chopra’s team made their discovery during a molecular investigation of non-antibiotic therapies to see whether they could kill bugs that have developed a resistance to antibiotics. They were concerned by CDC statistics that show that, “while antibiotics have been highly effective at treating infectious diseases, infectious bacteria have adapted to them and they have become less effective”.
Of 780 drugs already used to treat other types of illness, the researchers discovered that 94 “were significantly effective” in tests against the bug that causes plague and is becoming resistant to antibiotics.
Those were narrowed down to three, an antipsychotic, a breathing stimulant and the anti-depressant, which were found to be effective in treating plague, which is caused by the bacterium yersinia pestis.
The antipsychotic, trifluoperazine, was also used to treat two other conditions caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, salmonella enterica and clostridium difficile.
Chopra, who believes bacterial drug resistance is increasing because of doctors’ over-prescription of antibiotics, said: “This area of antibiotic resistance is a big problem in global terms. That’s why we started thinking of what different ways we can use drugs already available to combat this problem.
“The solution could lie with drugs originally meant for other uses that, until now, no one knew could also help combat bacterial infections. It is quite possible these drugs are already, unknowingly, treating infections when prescribed for other reasons.”