Researchers develop probiotic drink that tackles antibiotic resistance

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A team of scientists at the University of Birmingham has developed a probiotic drink that could help in fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The drink prevents the growth of plasmids, small DNA molecules inside bacterial cells that carry genes that give resistance to antibiotics and replicate independently.

A new type of plasmid engineered by the researchers prevent the target plasmids from replicating, thus displacing the resistance genes available to the bacteria and effectively ‘re-sensitising’ them to antibiotics.

The team is now seeking funding for a clinical trial for the drink which will contain bacteria (in a similar way to drinks like Yakult) carrying this new type of plasmid, called pCURE plasmids.

“We were able to show that if you can stop the plasmid from replicating, then most of the bacteria lose the plasmid as the bacteria grow and divide. This means that infections that might otherwise be hard to control, even with the most powerful antibiotics available, are more likely to be treatable with standard antibiotics,” said Professor Christopher Thomas, lead researcher.

A trial in mice at the University of Sydney, Australia was successful. The next step is to see if pCURE plasmids can spread fast enough in human volunteers to get rid of resistance plasmids.

“This is a promising start,” said Professor Thomas. “We aim to make modifications to further improve the efficacy of our pCURE plasmids before moving towards a first clinical trial.”

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest medical challenges of our time,” Professor Thomas added. “We need to be tackling this on a number of different fronts including by reducing our use of antibiotics and searching for new, more effective drugs. Our approach, which tackles one of the causes of antimicrobial resistance at a genetic level, could be an important new weapon in this battle.”