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Alzheimer’s Drug May Also Fight Antibiotic Resistance

New research suggests that a drug previously made to help fight Alzheimer's disease may also be uniquely effective at treating life-threatening bacteria that have grown resistant over time to traditional antibiotics.

(CN) — New research suggests that a drug previously made to help fight Alzheimer's disease may also be uniquely effective at treating life-threatening bacteria that have grown resistant over time to traditional antibiotics.

While antibiotics and their ability to target dangerous bacteria in the body have long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools in humankind’s fight against diseases, they nonetheless come with one major flaw: As antibiotics become cheaper and more accessible around the world and humans continue to increasingly rely on them, certain strains of bacteria have evolved a natural resistance to them. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics can be so strong that it can essentially render antibiotic treatment against those bacterial strains ineffective and potentially futile.

This natural shield — known as antimicrobial resistance — that some bacteria have developed has been widely recognized as a significant threat to the future of antibiotics and how medical experts use them.

Mark Walker, professor at the University of Queensland, says that as more superbugs and diseases become less vulnerable to the powers of modern medicine, treating people with severe infections has become a serious — and potentially dire — problem.

“The emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs is an urgent threat to human health, undermining the capacity to treat patients with serious infection," Walker said in a press statement. "Alternative strategies to treat such multi-drug resistant bacteria are urgently needed.”

But researchers report that there is some hope on the horizon. In a new study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers reveal that a drug created to help treat Alzheimer's disease also shows promise as being a form of treatment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Through a series of experiments with mice, researchers determined that the drug known as PBT2 was capable of fighting — and even eliminating — the Gram-negative type of bacteria that is the culprit behind a host of dangerous ailments, such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections and meningitis.

Wednesday’s study reveals that PBT2 accomplishes this medical feat by disrupting a series of key metals found inside bacteria. Once those metals have been taken out of commission, the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance within those strains of bacteria find themselves severely weakened, allowing antibiotic treatment to become viable once again.

While this ability to fight Gram-negative bacteria has yet to be proven in humans, researchers are optimistic that if they can replicate the success they found with mice, PBT2 could represent a major victory in health experts’ ongoing battle with rising antibiotic-resistant infections around the world.

While future studies on the effectiveness of PBT2 to treat antimicrobial resistance are needed, researchers say that part of what makes Wednesday’s reveal so significant is that it involves a drug that has already gone through many stages of rigorous testing. Multiple clinical studies have already been conducted exploring the drug’s consequences and proving that PBT2 is safe for humans.

Researchers report that this method of repurposing drugs that were previously manufactured for different forms of treatments deserves recognition as a safe option for developing new drugs. By finding new value in a drug that has already been created, researchers can save significant amounts of time and money that would have gone towards making a drug from scratch, not to mention it allows researchers to avoid many risks associated with drug innovation.

Christopher McDevitt, associate professor at the University of Melbourne, says that while the future of antibiotic resistance may be on a troubling path if current trends and estimates hold steady, Wednesday’s advancement may give scientists the edge they need to change course at such a crucial time.

"New techniques are critical in addressing this building threat to human health, and this treatment is an additional weapon in our arsenal to fight the accelerating threat of antibiotic resistance,” McDevitt said. “If these new solutions aren't developed, it's estimated that by 2050, antimicrobial-resistant bacteria will account for more than 10 million deaths per year. This new treatment could help turn the tide on antibiotic resistance.”

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