The rising number of antibiotic resistance cases around the world is a serious threat. More and more often, bacterial infections which once could have been easily treated or occasionally even be considered harmless turn fatal if the respective pathogen stops responding to treatment with any of the available antibiotics.
The work of researchers at Heidelberg University is now offering new hope. They examined whether and how the effectiveness of antibiotics may be increased or restored by combining them with other agents. A total of 79 different substances – painkillers, gastroenteritis medication, food additives, and many other – were each combined with an antibiotic and the effectiveness of the combination tested on three different pathogens (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium).
Most of the almost 3000 pairings profiled showed a rather reduced antibiotic effect. Yet in more than 500 cases the Heidelberg researchers observed an improved antibiotic outcome which they published in the scientific journal “Nature”. Public attention focused primarily on the combination of an antibiotic known as spectinomycin and vanillin. Vanillin, commonly known from its use in desserts and Christmas baking, apparently helps the weakly effective antibiotic to enter more deeply into the pathogen and destroy it or inhibit its growth.
Spectinomycin was originally developed in the early-1960s but is rarely used nowadays as many bacteria have become resistant against it. Hence, the research results are an important stepping stone towards making the antibiotic clinically relevant again. The tested pairings could reportedly also be used to selectively kill specific bacteria without harming healthy bacteria.
Another advantage is that the substances used, e.g. vanillin or painkillers, are already approved for human consumption as food additives or drugs. In a subsequent step, the effectiveness of the new lab-proven antibiotic combinations could now be tested on humans.