Molding Modern Medicine: Swiss study advances use of antibiotic alternative

By Kelly Fisher, staff writer

Imagine walking to class on Ohio University’s campus through snow and ice. You keep your head angled down, blocking the majority of the wind from your face and watching your footing, but the packed snow on the sidewalk from the many students walking there before you causes you to slip anyway.

You reach your hands out to break the fall, and scrape your palms (it was the wrong day to forget your gloves in your dorm room). Thankfully, we have the resources for you to properly clean the cuts.

And within the next few years, we could have a much stronger, much more reliable drug to treat infections.

But nearly 90 years after the discovery of penicillin, bacteria has learned to fight back against medication.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 50,000 people in America and Europe alone die of drug-resistant bacteria each year.

Luckily, a team of researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland have set out to change modern medicine.

Dr. Eduard Babiychuk led the four-year study, which found a possible alternative to antibiotics that could be made available internationally in approximately two years, depending on the results of the clinical trials, which will be administered by Lascco, a private biomedical-technology development company in Geneva, Switzerland.

“At one point, it became obvious to us that there might be an efficient way to capture bacterial toxins even before they were able to bind, and therefore to damage host cells,” Babiychuk said of his research.

The new drug, currently named CAL02, is currently effective against gram positive bacteria, which includes staphylococcus (“staph”), streptococci (“strep”) and pneumococci, according to Medicine Net.

Babiychuk’s drug resistance should not be a problem again, considering the drug does not affect bacteria growth like antibiotics as we know them.

“For the development of drug resistance, two processes are critical,” he said in an email. “Mutations in bacterial genes that happen spontaneously, and selection, which is driven by the drug itself.”

There is no way to prevent mutations, which would mean eliminating all bacteria. But, he pointed out, just because one or some bacteria mutate to resist a drug does not mean that the entire bacterial population will grow to resist it.

“Our therapy does not kill bacteria. The actual killing is done by the professionals — by our immune system,” he said. “The therapy works by protecting immune cells from the detrimental action of bacterial toxins which are designed, in the first place, to disable our immune system. In other words, our therapy keeps the immune system fit and does not apply itself selective evolutionary pressure, which is needed for the development of drug resistance.”

The team developed nanoparticles composed of liposomes, which are small sacs of lipids — organic compounds, such as fatty acids, that are insoluble in water — filled with fluid. Typically, bacterial toxins bind to the lipids of their plasma membrane to damage human cells.

But in Babiychuk’s study, the team altered the lipid compositions of the liposomes in CAL02 to trick, so to speak, the bacterial toxins into binding to a new source. As a result, they will not damage human cells, particularly those in our immune systems, and we can fight off the infections more effectively.

In two groups of infected mice that the team studied, the ones that were administered effective doses of liposomes in sufficient timeframe survived, while the ones that did not died off.

In the midst of ‘sick season,’ many people are concerned about influenza, considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed this year’s vaccination relatively ineffective because Influenza A (H3N2) is the predominant virus strain, and hospitalizations and deaths relating to the flu tend to spike when it is dominant.

According to the most current report from the CDC (the week ending in Dec. 27, 2014), the flu is widespread in 43 of the 50 states, including Ohio.

fluviewAt the end of December, the Ohio Department of Health stated in a news release that the number of reported cases of hospitalizations relating to the flu in Ohio reached 985, a significant difference from the 216 cases that were reported in Ohio at the same time last year.

Unfortunately, however, Babiychuk is unsure whether his new medical alternative would be effective against the flu, as he and his team do not work with viruses.

“I believe that our work might be a good start for dealing with already existing antibiotic-resistant pathogens and tackling the problem of antibiotic-resistance as a whole,” he said in an email. “In general, our work shows that oiling our machinery from time to time to give it a slightly better performance can be as efficient as redesigning it anew and might be less problematic in the long run.”

Babiychuk and his team plan to further develop liposomal therapy to accommodate other bacterias as Lascco prepares to move forward with clinical trials.

Kelly is a junior who cannot believe she is already more than halfway done with her time in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Aside from College Green, she spends her time writing for OU’s College of Health Sciences and Professions and working on the Young African Leaders Initiative through the Institute for International Journalism…

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