News Feature | March 24, 2014

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Targeted By New AMPs

By Estel Grace Masangkay

Scientists presented new data regarding research on targeting antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria using antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other bacteria with increasing resistance to existing treatments and drugs can be killed using antimicrobial peptides or “molecular drill bits” that break through cell walls. If AMPs are further developed into pharmaceuticals, they could be designed to overcome drug resistance to attack bacteria’s walls to destroy them.

Georges Belfort of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute said, “It’s going to be much more difficult for a bacterium that’s been around for millions of years to reconfigure its membrane. That’s the core protective structure that has helped it survive this long.” Penetrating the bacteria’s protective structure using AMPs could open the way to develop effective treatments for such antibiotic resistant bacteria and the disease they cause.

Belfort’s team is studying a new therapy to fight bacteria that cause tuberculosis. The disease is treatable, but resistant strains have been observed to be on the rise. According to the World Health Organization, about 170,000 people died from multi drug-resistant TB strain in 2012 alone.

AMPs are naturally occurring, short strings of amino acids produced by organisms as a natural part of the body’s defense system. Research shows that AMPs possess the ability to break through bacterial cell walls. Belfort and his team designed and synthesized three novel AMPs to drill into the protective walls of tuberculosis cells. All three investigative AMPs killed the bacteria, with one showing greater efficacy than the others. However, the AMPs were still inferior to kanamycin, an antibiotic used against TB virus and to which some strains have developed resistance.

The team is currently working to improve their understanding of how AMPs work through design and lab test research. Belfort presented the team’s findings at the ACS meeting, which features more than 10,000 scientific reports across various disciplines.