Thousands of people die because of Melioidosis each year. Burkholderia pseudomallei is the bacteria responsible for the spread. It is common in tropical regions. Although about 100000 people die there is no current vaccine available for it. The current therapeutics are ineffective because of the strong resistance to antibiotics.
The degree of danger posed by the bacterium is extremely high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorize it as a potential bio-weapon.
Recent research has shown promising results. It has identified two compounds that could treat Melioidosis. Led by the University of California the research identified a drug already approved by the FDA as an anti-fungal treatment. The other is a new synthetic antibiotic.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showcase the findings from the research.
The tropical threat: Melioidosis
The UCLA researchers think researching Melioidosis will help understand other tropical diseases too.
Melioidosis is most abundant in southern Asia and northern Australia. It can cause lethal bloodstream infection or even worse diseases. It can even cause a TB-like fatal infection.
The culprit bacterium can infect and spread through a wound or cut.
Once inside the body, it can spread by causing infected cells to fuse with their neighbors. This process of its spread can be fatal for the tissue in which the bacteria live. The cells burst, causing the tissue to die.
The team conducted experiments to find compounds that can influence the bacteria’s life-cycle.
Because of the dangerous nature of B. pseudomallei, researchers selected a different test subject. The less dangerous but biologically similar B. thailandensis. The screening technology they developed is very advanced. It captures any compound that limits the bacterium in any way. This includes getting into the cell, growing in the cell, or spreading to nearby cells.
This helped narrow down the list of drugs that required further testing.
Human cells treated with the compound were then infected with the bacterium. A laser scanning cytometry gave a high-res image of the effects of the compound. A gap of 20 hours between the injection and cytometry ensured accurate results.
Those compounds that successfully combated B. thailandensis were then tested against B. pseudomallei. B. mallei were also tested with the same compounds.
This vigorous testing regime gave 32 compounds that were successful against the bacteria.
Combining traditional drugs with Antivirulence ones
Flucytosine and the newly synthesized burkfloxacin caused minimum toxicity. Both entered the host cell and the bacterium.
Flucytosine, or 5-FC, is an antifungal medication already approved by the FDA. It worked by stopping the spread of the bacterium. 5-FC did this by stopping the cells from fusing and bursting.
5-FC is an antivirulence drug which coupled with traditional antibiotics could be effective. Traditional antibiotics work by stopping bacteria from growing in the first place.
A combination of both would make antibiotic resistance less likely. At the same time, this will ensure total defense against the bacteria.
Additionally, 5-FC is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. This means that it is available in resource-poor regions. Most melioidosis affected areas do not have a lot of resources.
A big challenge still faced by the team is to make sure the findings bear results at a commercial level. 5-FC is a well-established safe drug. This helps with rapid adoption in treating new diseases. This prioritizes it as a potential treatment for melioidosis.”
The other drug BFX contains the well-known drug ciprofloxacin. During the study, it proved effective in blocking B. pseudomallei’s growth.
Further studies on mice models proved the success of the study. The two new compounds outperformed any other treatment available for melioidosis.
With some further refinements, these drugs might save millions of lives each year. This would make tropical illnesses one less thing to worry about during vacations.