Chemotherapy has been used extensively in the treatment of cancer for the past seventy years. It involves the use of toxic chemicals that kill rapidly dividing cells that build into a cancerous tumour. Unfortunately, classic chemotherapy not only destroys cancer cells but also healthy cells and can weaken or even destroy the patient’s immune system. This leads to an inability to fend off bacteria or viruses as well as causing the debilitating and distressing side-effects of anaemia, bleeding easily, hair loss and damage to the gut, producing nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Bacteria and viruses can and do mutate; jumping, from animal species to humans, as did the coronavirus from bats to humans, (see Nat Med in Further Reading below), or evolve to build resistance to the antimicrobial drugs developed to kill them.
This acquired resistance has been caused by over-prescription of antibiotics to humans combined with their profligate over-use in agriculture and factory farmed products for human consumption, such as beef, pork, chicken and farmed fish. The 2014 UK government O’Neill Report warned that the rise of these antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’ is now a worldwide problem that, by 2050, could risk 10 million lives each year if new drugs are not found.
As I mentioned earlier, cancer patients are particularly susceptible to infections because their immune system has been damaged or destroyed by chemotherapy and this can be very serious if these infections turn out to be antibiotic resistant strains. Clearly the development of new antibiotics is crucial for managing the post-cancer treatment period during recovery of the patient’s immune system.
In this regard, a powerful antibiotic that kills some of the most dangerous drug-resistant bacteria in the world has been discovered, using artificial intelligence, (AI). The drug works in a different way to existing antibiotics and has been found by using AI on the vast digital libraries of pharmaceutical compounds.
Tests at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT), showed that the drug wiped out a range of bacteria that were antibiotic resistant, including Acinetobacter baumannii and Enterobacteriaceae, two of the three high-priority pathogens that the World Health Organization considers to be critical targets for the development of new antibiotics.
“In terms of antibiotic discovery, this is absolutely a first,” said Regina Barzilay, a senior researcher on the project at MIT.
“I think this is one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered to date,” added James Collins, a MIT bioengineer. “It has remarkable activity against a broad range of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.”
EU Action has done little to halt the spread of superbugs
Global Priority List of Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria to Guide Research, Discovery, and Development of New Antibiotics
Bacteria Resistance to Antibiotics: Recent Trends and Challenges
A Deep Learning Approach to Antibiotic Discovery
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