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Preliminary research indicates that a compound known as fabimycin may be effective against drug-resistant bacteria. Luis Alvarez/Getty Images
  • In a study involving mice, researchers say a modified compound known as fabimycin appeared to be effective against 300 drug-resistant bacteria.
  • Experts say the findings are potentially important because the overuse of antibiotics has created bacteria that is resistant to many medications.
  • They add that people can do their part by completing their full course of antibiotics and by washing their hands with soap that doesn’t contain antibacterial chemicals.

A novel drug compound could become a critical tool in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a new study involving mice suggests.

Scientists led by researchers at the University of Illinois used antibiotics that were effective against non-resistant bacteria as a baseline to test compounds that might work against drug-resistant “gram-negative” bacteria whose thick cell walls and other internal mechanisms make them hard to treat with normal antibiotics.

One of the modified compounds that they tested, fabimycin, appeared to be effective, reducing drug-resistant bacteria in mice to pre-infection levels and outperforming traditional antibiotics

Further testing revealed that the compound was also effective against 300 other drug-resistant bacteria in a laboratory setting.

While further research and development are required, the early results are promising.

“Although there is a long road to go, this study impressively demonstrates the potential for finding new classes of antibiotics against these critically important human pathogens,” said Dr. David Greenberg, an infectious disease specialist and a professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Texas.

Drug-resistant bacteria occur in more than 2.8 million infections per year and are responsible for 35,000 deaths annually.

Common antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” cause diseases such as Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, to name a few.

“Drug-resistant bacteria represent perhaps the biggest threat to global health security,” said Oladele Ogunseitan, PhD, MPH, an infectious disease expert and presidential chair at the University of California Irvine.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotic resistance was generally considered the number one challenge for public health,” Ogunseitan told Healthline. “It remains a big problem because we can no longer rely on the safe first-line antibiotics for infectious pathogens, which we assumed to be under control. The problem is worldwide and likely to continue to fester unless we discover new antibiotics.”

“Research to discover new effective antibiotics has been lagging for many years, so this study is a major step in the right direction,” he added.

These superbugs exist for a variety of reasons. In part, it’s natural selection at work.

When some bacteria survive a course of antibiotics, they can pass on their antibiotic-resistant traits to the next generation of bacteria.

Thus, the use of antibiotics gives way to antibiotic resistance. This is one reason why antibiotic-resistant staph infections such as MRSA have become endemic in many hospital settings.

“We now face the prospect of frequently taking care of patients who have multidrug-resistant — and sometimes pan-resistant — bacterial infections where we have few antibiotics left to choose from,” Greenberg told Healthline. “This threatens many of the advances that we have seen in other areas of medicine such as cancer care and transplantation. We will be in deep trouble if we are not able to adequately treat these patients who develop infections.”

In fact, antibiotic resistance has doubled in the past two decades, driven by modifiable factors such as overuse and misuse of antibiotic drugs as well as over-reliance on antimicrobial soaps.

To combat this requires both changes in medical practice and public policy.

Still, individuals can also help prevent the proliferation of new antibiotic-resistant drugs by always completing their full courses of antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor as well as avoiding the use of soaps with antibacterial chemicals in them.

Experts say that plain soap kills 99 percent of germs, so adding antibacterial substances is simply overkill.

So wash your hands frequently but skip the added chemicals.

“The ability of bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics will be forever with us,” Greenberg said. “Therefore, we will likely need to both protect current antibiotics from overuse while replenishing the pipeline of new antibiotics.”