When we talk about newly discovered drugs that fight diseases, it can appear that life science researchers pull solutions out of thin air. Indeed, very often the drug production process begins with a lengthy, tedious period of trial and error. However, a chemistry research group at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is attempting a more resourceful approach - discovering new uses for existing drugs.
The team began with the simple mission of searching for new antibiotics. As they considered how best to do this, they decided to try looking at drugs already approved for other uses. “[T]here’s a greater chance to get something that’s safe and effective by starting with an approved drug than if you just go into the chemistry lab and screen unknown compounds,” said chemistry professor Eric Oldfield (pictured left, courtesy of UIUC).
Oldfield and his group tested several drugs approved to treat ailments such as parasitic infections and cancers, and found that several of the drugs were also effective antibiotic agents against bacterial diseases like staph and tuberculosis. In fact, some of the drugs proved to be even more effective than existing antibiotics for an unexpected reason.
“What we found is that a lot of FDA-approved molecules that are in use actually do kill bacteria and also act as uncouplers. We were kind of surprised to find that,” Oldfield said in a UIUC article. “What’s even better is that some of those molecules also inhibit enzymes specific to bacteria, or disrupt the membrane or the cell wall.”
What this means is that these drugs may constitute a new type of antibiotic – one that bacteria could have a much harder time adapting to. By killing the bacteria via indirect methods like inhibiting necessary enzymes or rupturing the cell wall, Oldfield hopes that the bacteria will be unable to make simple evolutionary changes to survive. That is, dependence on an enzyme and reliance on a cell wall are traits shared among almost all bacteria, thus these new drugs constitute a new paradigm in the antibiotic world.
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health. More funding information related to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the research it conducts can be found using the link below:
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