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Sugar makes antibiotics more effective

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Joined: Apr/28/2011
Location: Canada
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Sugar makes antibiotics more effective
    Posted: May/13/2011 at 9:14am

Sugar makes antibiotics more effective, study finds

May 12, 2011

Kenyon Wallace

TORONTO STAR

 New research suggests that a spoonful of sugar not only makes the medicine go down, it also makes the medicine work.

A team of researchers at Boston University has discovered that sugar can significantly boost the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat chronic bacterial infections, such as strep, staph, tuberculosis, as well as urinary-tract infections.

The sugar works by triggering certain metabolic functions in bacterial “persisters,” strains of bacteria that are able to survive antibiotic treatments by becoming dormant, to take up the antibiotics. Once an antibiotic treatment is finished, these persisters lie in wait — sometimes for months — only to awaken stronger and more aggressive, causing the patient to become ill once again.

“The majority of antibiotics work on dividing bacteria cells, so if the cell is dormant and not dividing, typical antibiotics don’t work,” James Collins, a professor of biomedical engineering at Boston College and an author of the study, told the Star.

Collins’ study appears in the May 12 issue of the journal Nature.

The phenomenon of bacterial persistence has become a major problem in the treatment of infections, but as of yet, there are no antibiotics that directly target persisters.

The risks are serious: untreated infections boosted by the presence of persisters can cause bacteria to spread to the kidneys and other organs, requiring hospitalization and more aggressive — and expensive — treatment.

Persisters aren’t the same as antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Persisters are identical to all other cells in their bacterial strain, whereas bacteria resistant to antibiotics are genetic mutations arising through prolonged exposure to drugs.

Collins, 45, was inspired to research persisters thanks, in part, to personal experience. His 71-year-old mother has had recurrent staph infections that, despite strong antibiotic treatment, could not be cured. Though she is still on antibiotics, her symptoms seem to have died down.

Collins himself was unable to compete in a track and field event as an undergraduate at the College of the Holy Cross due to a persistent staph infection.

Over the course of two years, Collins and his colleagues administered antibiotics and a type of sugar called mannitol to mice with urinary-tract infections. They found that treatment with antibiotics alone had no effect, but the addition of sugar resulted in the death of 99.9 per cent of the persisters, a strain of E. coli.

Collins noted that the sugar seems to work only in conjunction with a narrow set of antibiotics called aminoglycosides, a class that includes the common drugs gentamicin and kanamycin.

His team is now looking at whether sugar additives can improve the potency of tuberculosis drugs. TB is a chronic bacterial infection of the lungs that causes more deaths than any other infectious disease, according the World Health Organization.

“While there are many more tests that need to be done, including human trials, one can envision that this technique might be a good means of treating recurring infections where you would mix the antibiotic with sugar and take it orally or intravenously,” Collins said.

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