Chuanbing Tang and colleagues note that the antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
) is responsible for a significant fraction of the infections that patients acquire in hospitals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MRSA usually spreads in hospitals when a health care provider with contaminated hands unknowingly passes it along to a patient. It can cause serious problems such as pneumonia, and can lead to death. One of the ways MRSA undermines conventional treatments is by producing enzymes that inactivate traditional antibiotics such as penicillin. Scientists have been developing new agents to combat these enzymes, but the agents so far have fallen short. Tang's team wanted to find a better alternative.
They tested a recently discovered class of metallopolymers large, metal-containing molecules against several strains of MRSA. When paired with the same antibiotics MRSA normally dispatches with ease, the polymer/antibiotic combo evaded the bacteria's defensive enzymes and destroyed its protective walls, causing the bacteria to burst. Also, the metallopolymers mostly left red blood cells alone, which suggests they might have minimal side effects. "These discoveries could pave a new platform to design antibiotics and antimicrobial agents to battle multidrug-resistant bacteria and superbugs," the researchers state.