Health Check: Worms used to develop new class of antibiotics

New research could bring us one step closer to the development of a new class of antibiotics. (WJAR)

New research could bring us one step closer to the development of a new class of antibiotics.

The new class is capable of fighting those emerging superbugs.

The research involves microscopic round worms.

"It has an immune system that is very rudimentary, but in some ways similar to humans -- remarkably," said Dr. Eleftherios Mylonakis, who is the director of Infectious Diseases at Rhode Island and the Miriam Hospitals. "And it can get an infection from pathogens that kill humans.”

They've been infecting the worms in his lab at Rhode Island Hospital.

"Then, we let the infection take process,” he said.

They then treat the worms in sections with various compounds.

"And what we're looking for are wells where you have every worm alive,” said Mylonakis. “That means the compound that you put there is working."

Mylonakis has been leading the research for the last 15 years in search of a new class of antibiotics to fight superbugs.

"Some of those bacteria are very virulent, very aggressive,” he noted.

It’s a challenge to treat. MRSA, which is a type of bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics, is one of them.

"This is a very big problem,” said Mylonakis.

It’s one the World Health Organization projects will surpass cancer as the global number one killer by the year 2050.

That's why the new find is remarkable -- identifying two synthetic retinoids, which are chemically related to vitamin A, that were effective against the resistant bacteria. The compounds even seek out and kill the cells that are hiding.

But, it isn't quite ready for prime time.

"We're aiming for clinical trials in five years,” said Mylonakis.

The research is a collaboration between Rhode Island Hospital, Brown University, Emory and Northwestern Universities, Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The results are published in the online journal, “Nature.”

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