hospital child hospital child Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a new method to eliminate drug resistant bacteria in hospitals and help reduce patient infections. (Photo: Goodluz /Shutterstock)

Is it possible to reverse antibiotic resistance? New research says yes

By infecting bacteria with a virus, researchers at Tel Aviv University have figured out a way to make them more susceptible to antibiotics.

When it comes to understanding the fight against bacterial resistance to antibiotics, it's best to start with a quote from the fictional mathematician Ian Malcolm from "Jurassic Park."

"If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained," explains Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum. "Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously."

He ends his warning with the now famous line: "Life finds a way."

What applies to dinosaurs breaking free and eating everyone can very much also apply to bacteria evolving resistance to modern antibiotics. Life finds a way – and for scientists at the forefront of this fight, the bacterial strains have increasingly been winning. In the United States alone, more than 2 million people each year are infected by strains of drug-resistant bacteria, with many contracted in the very hospitals they visit seeking treatment.

"If we're not careful, the medicine chest will be empty when we go there to look for a lifesaving antibiotic for someone with a deadly infection," Dr. Tom Frieden, director for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, told CBS News.

In an effort to turn the tide against ever-evolving bacteria, scientists at institutions such as Harvard, American University and the University of California have been pioneering new methods to reverse drug resistance. The latest, from Israel's Tel Aviv University, involves turning the tables on bacteria and infecting them with a modified virus called a phage. Almost like a Trojan Horse, the phage delivers a specialized package of DNA that eliminates the genes responsible for bacterial resistance and prevents further transmission to other strains. Effectively weakened, the bacteria are once again rendered sensitive to modern antibiotics.

Professor Udi Qimron of the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at Tel Aviv University believes his team's solution would be particularly effective at reducing drug resistant strains present in hospitals. Sprayed on surfaces, it would weaken and kill off those bacteria responsible for most life-threatening infections.

"Since there are only a few pathogens in hospitals that cause most of the antibiotic-resistance infections, we wish to specifically design appropriate sensitization treatments for each one of them," he said.

Since the use of viral phages as bacterial disinfectants is already used to treat edible foods, plants and farm animals worldwide, it's hoped that its application in hospitals will not be long coming.

"We believe that this strategy, in addition to disinfection, could significantly render infections once again treatable by antibiotics," Qimron added.

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