Using Bacteria to Fight Drug Resistant Diseases

By Michael Hill

“It’s definitely a grim situation,” said Daniel Kadouri, microbiologist at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine.

Dr. Kadouri echoes the warnings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They call it an urgent, serious threat to public health — diseases that resist antibiotics because germs evolve and antibiotics have been overused and abused, even on the farm to make animals grow faster.

“What we did in the last few years is we pushed the envelope,” Dr. Kadouri said.

The scientist says that’s left treating physicians with few options. They can try a cocktail of drugs or resort to surgery, including amputation.

But, Dr. Kadouri plans to change that.

“One of the things that we’re doing is going back to nature. In nature there are predators and there are preys. There are bacteria that can actually attack other bacteria,” he said.

With a $7 million U.S. Defense Department grant, Dr. Kadouri is leading an international research team to examine how the predatory bacteria they grow in labs can kill the microorganisms that cause plague and diseases like lung infections that are resistant to and resist antibiotics.

“It’s bacteria that will attach to other bacteria. Some of it will actually penetrate other bacteria and grow inside and burst outside and some of them will attach from the outside and basically feed on them like vampires,” he said.

“It’s a completely novel way to think about antibiotic treatment,” said Dr. Nancy Connell, infectious disease professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Infectious disease doctor Connell is part of the team and says think of it this way — some people use yogurt to treat infections because it has the natural bacteria acidophilus.

“Organisms can become resistant to the chemical antibiotic and then we have to throw it away. We can’t use it any more. But, with these live antibiotics, they can actually change and figure out a new way to attack bad, bad organisms,” Dr. Connell said.

It’s the second phase of a study that began more than a decade ago. This one — with the help of the University of Pittsburgh, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Hebrew University in Jerusalem — will determine whether the lab-grown pathogens can kill infections and diseases without being toxic to animals and patients. Right now, researchers say, they’re nontoxic to mice.

Dr. Kadouri says the clock is ticking.

“This is something that humanity needs,” he said. “It’s something we need to invest and have a pipeline because now we still have some antibiotics, we can still treat some bacteria with antibiotics. The day will come, probably will be very soon, when they will not. So we want to be sure we invest resources in building up our arsenal.”

The doctors say don’t expect any new antibiotics tomorrow based on their research. But, they say, long-term, look for the kind of antibiotics that will save lives.