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New Generation of Antibiotics is on the Way

Updated on March 9, 2016
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Chris has spent 26 years in laboratory work and has had personal experience with cancer, alcoholism and Willis-Eckbom Disease (RLS).

Bacteria, the cause of Tuberculosis

Mycobacterium tuberculosis Bacteria, the Cause of TB.   Scanning electron micrograph
Mycobacterium tuberculosis Bacteria, the Cause of TB. Scanning electron micrograph | Source

Breakthrough in Developing New Antibiotics

Research and development of a whole new generation of antibiotics has recently begun and is being carried out in ernest. According to the journal, Nature, Scientists have discovered a way to grow antibiotic producing bacteria in the laboratory, a process that has evaded them since penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.

Northeastern University, Boston, MA

The discovery was made by Professor Kim Lewis and his research team at Northeastern University in Boston. The bacteria which produce antibiotics are found mostly in soil. Scientists have attempted to sift the bacteria from the soil and to grow them in petrie dishes in laboratories. The problem is that up till now, the vast majority of bacteria would not grow in the lab.

Growing Bacteria in the Laboratory

Colony of bacteria growing in a petri dish
Colony of bacteria growing in a petri dish | Source

Why Do Bacteria Produce Antibiotics?

The types of bacteria responsible for the production of antibiotics live in the soil and are known as antinomycetes. These bacteria utilize amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, and nucleic acids from which they manufacture antibiotics. There is one popular explanation for why antinomycetes produce antibiotics. Many believe these bacteria protect their food stores by lacing them with antibiotics which are lethal to other bacteria which attempt to consume them.


Discovery: Growing Antibiotic Producing Bacteria in the Laboratory

The solution, which the team from Northeastern University developed, was to place the bacteria in a small chamber, sandwiched between layers of the soil in which most bacteria are found. The chambers were then returned to the ground where the bacteria resumed growing and building colonies. Finally, the chambers were returned to the lab where the bacteria actually continued to grow. This was the first breakthrough in the team’s search for a new source of antibiotics. The process has now opened the door for the development of the first new antibiotics since 1987.

Antibiotics Don't Work for Viruses

Source

Do Not Take Antibiotics for Viruses

According to The Center for Disease Control, Antibiotics don't work against viruses. The CDC says that antibiotics-

  • Will not cure the infection
  • Will not keep other people from getting sick
  • Will not help you or your child feel better
  • May cause unnecessary and harmful side effects
  • May contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria are able to resist the effects of an antibiotic and continue to cause harm

Problem: Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

But there was a problem. Antibiotics began to be used widely in the 1940s and have been relied upon so heavily, that the bacteria they were designed to fight have developed resistance to the drug. This has happened to the extent that some bacterial diseases, such as tuberculosis and MRSA, are nearly untreatable. The world is on the verge of potential epidemics of diseases, such as tuberculosis, which had previously been under control. The Dark Ages and the Bubonic Plague seem to loom on the horizon. According to the Center for Disease Control,

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Three Game Changing Discoveries

Professor Mike Lewis and his team of researchers at Northeastern University in Boston made the following discoveries that will change clinical health care far into the future:

  • A method for growing antibiotic producing bacteria in the laboratory
  • Countless new bacteria from which to produce new generations of antibiotics
  • Antibiotics that do not produce resistance characteristics in bacteria

Discovery: Antibiotics With No Resistance Characteristics

But the discovery of the new process for growing bacteria in the lab was only half the story that was unfolding. After extracting the new antibiotics from the bacteria, Lewis and his team began testing the new drugs against a variety of bacteria such as strep, tuberculosis and MRSA, a life threatening staph infection. The result was that the bacteria causing these diseases were killed by the new antibiotic, named Teixobactin, without any signs of developing resistance.

Discovery: Twenty-two New Antibiotics

Lewis and his team had set out only to discover a way to grow antibiotic producing bacteria in the laboratory. But they ended up discovering twenty-two new antibiotics, one of which (teixobactin) does not lead to the bacteria developing resistance. Further testing showed that in mice there were no side effects from the antibiotic, and test animals were cured of a variety of serious, bacterial infections.

Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Source

Antibiotics for Now and the Distant Future

The long term implications of these discoveries are exciting news to the medical community. As a result of the efforts of Mike Lewis and his team, the world now has access to a nearly unlimited supply of bacteria from which to collect and grow new generations of antibiotics with virtually no resistance characteristics.

There is about a five year period from the discovery of a new antibiotic to it being ready for widespread use in humans. Although teixobactin has been proven both safe and effective for mice, the same testing will need to be performed with human subjects to see if the results are the same. In the meantime, scientists will be collecting and growing large quantities of the antibiotic so that when the time comes, they are prepared to begin testing on humans. After that, they will begin producing the drug for broader use.

A new era is dawning on the medical world. It will be an era of more effective defense against life threatening diseases, a defense that should last far into the future.

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    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 21 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      divya kiran, copy the URL and share away. Thanks for reading and passing it on.

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      divya kiran 21 months ago

      it is very useful content for us! provide me an option to share through g+ thank you

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Audrey, I'm glad you found the article encouraging and informative. Thanks for taking time to read it.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 2 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      This is great news and glad you have shared this. I like hearing about new breakthroughs. Well done!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is such encouraging news. When drugs are so overused that they no longer do any good is a valuable lesson. Strains of disease always mutate in order to survive due to their intelligence. What a great breakthrough.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      whonunuwho, thanks for reading and for the nice comment. I am both amazed and shocked at what we as humans are capable of doing.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

      We as people have the ability to overcome any great challenge. We will, and never look back. Thank you for your nice work. whonu

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Eric, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. It's fun to write about good news. I'll be interested to see what comes of this in about five to six years. It's great to see you here today.

    • cam8510 profile image
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      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Jo, I think you are right on the money. Antibiotics are a drug we are put on for a week or ten days. That doesn't generate a lot of money for the drug companies. I'm not a conspiracy theorist by a long shot, but they are in it to make a profit, as they should. But they go aggressively for the big money makers, drugs we will be on for the rest of our lives. Thank goodness for this team making the time to investigate this subject.

      Thanks for reading, Jo. Nice to see you.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Conekeeper, Thanks for reading and for sharing this article around. .

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Excellent article. You are darned good. You took a scientific article and made it interesting to read -- a great talent!

      Not to mention that this is all good news. I think we have learned from the problems we created in the last go round. This is a new day with new data and remarkable discoveries. Thanx

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      This can't come soon enough. The problem so far has been the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to invest in producing new classes of antibiotics. Antibiotics just isn't as lucretive as some anti-depressants, drugs used to treat bi-polar disorders or even anti-cancer drugs. If the drug companies are now actively researching and producing new antibiotics that can be effective, this can only be good news. Excellent hub Cam, well done.

    • Conekeeper profile image

      Conekeeper 2 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the info Chris--was really not aware of this. Will point others in this direction.

      Have a nice day.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Bill, I enjoy writing general interest kinds of articles when something strikes me as particularly interesting. I'll be starting a short story competition this friday. I'll have eight days to write a 2500 word story. Short fiction is my favorite at this point. Thanks for reading the article.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 2 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      I agree with you Cam but hey, I would hope you would have had the same compassion for the thousands upon thousands of people who were afflicted with polio solely because of the unenlightened introduction of penicillin despite evidence in earlier years with antibiotic sulfur drugs causing an epidemic of polio. Science quite often has made things worse in attempt to make things better. In the case of polio science came to the rescue by developing a vaccine for polio, 10 years too late for tens of thousands of people who didn't even know it was penicillin, well actually the lack of scientific knowledge about the immune system, that really caused their paralysis.

      I don't know Cam, I wonder how many of those on the beach at Normandy would have chosen paralysis over their chances without penicillin if they knew they were making that choice.

      " Would anyone dare stand by the bedside of such a person and encourage them to not use an antibiotic proven to kill the bacterial infection that was killing them? If it were me in that bed, would I turn it down based on the examples you have given? No, I'd use the medication and live."

      Yeah, well would you if you were told your real choice is between death and living the rest of your life paralyzed in a wheelchair only you won't be told that is what you are choosing. Sure anyone would take the chance on what is known and ignore the unknown, science is so advanced now who would question it right? I would.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A bit different for you, Cam, but really very interesting. I had heard nothing about this, so it was informative and well-received on this end. Thanks for the information.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      tsadjatko, I appreciate you reading and commenting on my article, but I don't feel inclined at all to temper my enthusiasm for these discoveries. Antibiotics have been abused by medical professionals as they catered to the demands of their patients for the quick fix of antibiotics. But this does not mean these drugs should not be used. A great effort was made to have massive amounts of penicillin ready for the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Would any of us have had the heart to stand on the beaches and inform these dying men that the one drug that could save them might do them harm if it were abused? My hope is that we have learned a lesson as we have abused antibiotics to the point that they no longer work. We have a second chance now to use the new generations of antibiotics with wisdom gained from the past. Yes, I will get appropriately excited by this wonderful news. Today I heard that a friend of a friend has MRSA. He is dying. I was asked when these new antibiotics, specifically teixobactin, will be available. I said five years. My friend said that her friend would be gone by then. Would anyone dare stand by the bedside of such a person and encourage them to not use an antibiotic proven to kill the bacterial infection that was killing them? If it were me in that bed, would I turn it down based on the examples you have given? No, I'd use the medication and live.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      TSAD 2 years ago from maybe (the guy or girl) next door

      I wouldn't get too excited, there are always unintended consequences that may not be known for years. We now know the year that penicillin was introduced was the outbreak of the polio epidemic. The connection between the introduction of antibiotics and the eruption of the polio epidemic of the mid-20 th century is one of the most conspicuous events in the history of medicine. In 1942, there were only 4,000 cases. The polio epidemic of the mid-20th century starts when annual cases jumped to over 10,000 per year, in 1943, the

      year following the introduction of injectable penicillin. If the intestinal wall is compromised (by killing the good bacteria in the case of penicillin), then the polio virus passes through the wall into the blood stream, where it "finally reaches the brain. There, it eats the brain stem, causing damage to the nervous system.

      Only in relatively recent years has science acknowledged the importance of good bacteria to the immune system - rest assured there is more science will not know until it is too late that will contribute to the effects of these new Antibiotics. They thought penicillin was safe.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      How great it is to have some hopeful news! This will indeed make a huge difference if they can't become resistant.

      You've made this interesting and given so much information with your engaging style. It's so easy to make science/medicine boring!

      Great hub, Chris, and well written.

      Ann

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Great news, and a well written Hub! Voted up!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is great news and interesting. First having to grow it in the ground, than transferring the soil to the lab. Thank's for sharing..

    • tlcs profile image

      Trudy Cooper 2 years ago from Hampshire, UK

      Hi, working part time at a Doctor's surgery I hope that patient's are not going to think once again that these antibiotics are going to be a quick fix way of dealing with there coughs and colds and that they allow time before approaching there GP to let there immune system's have a go and fighting the symptoms!

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Digital MD, I fully agree, abuse of antibiotics is largely what got us into this predicament. This was welcome news that there seems to be a way out. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Digital MD profile image

      LM Gutierrez 2 years ago

      Breakthroughs are very timely given the advent of new resistant strains of bacteria!

      Nonetheless, as normal citizens, one can easily help by not self-prescribing antibiotics and/or taking too much of wrong drug classes. This paves the way for more resistant strains. Defensive medicine and people's careless have contributed greatly to the new strains that we see right now. Good thing that our researchers are at least able to keep up.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Hi John. Hope all is well on your side of the world. thanks for reading the article. As for a soon release, It will take about five years to get the first of the new antibiotics on the market. But it is good to know they have started.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This is very welcome information Chris. It is a desperately needed breakthrough. Here's hoping the new antibiotics prove affective and can be released soon. Thanks for sharing.

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