CWRU, Cleveland Clinic researchers fight superbugs

Nihal Manjila, Staff Reporter

A team of researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic has recently experimented with and created an index with which they can determine how to give the most suitable antibiotics to patients.

The basis for the index is a mathematical model devised by Dr. Jacob Scott, Ph.D., a researcher in the Translational Hematology and Oncology Department at the Cleveland Clinic and clinical assistant professor at the Lerner College of Medicine, and other colleagues at the institution.

This innovation is significant because it is now the age of the superbug. Superbugs are powerful, antibiotic-resistant microorganisms that pose a great threat to humans’ health. There has been a rise in superbugs as resistance to antibiotics has built up among certain strains.

This issue has been exacerbated by the large numbers of antibiotics people use for various purposes, such as protecting food from contamination. While the antibiotics may kill a majority of a given strain of bacteria, the surviving bacteria will adapt and over time become resistant to the antibiotic used. This can reach a point where a patient may become sicker or even die instead of becoming healthier after using antibiotics.

The proposed mathematical model was applied to 60 scenarios dealing with bacterial strains of E. coli that became resistant to a commonly prescribed antibiotic called cefotaxime and required a new antibiotic treatment.

Evolution experiments and genetic sequencing were used to predict what other antibiotics would likely be effective at combating the resistant strains. This was achieved through exposing samples of the resistant strains to various antibiotics to see what had greater effectiveness, denoting a viable option, and which had a lesser impact or lack of effectiveness, indicating an invalid option.

This new approach to fighting superbugs is of great value to the medical field because of the difficulties of developing a wholly new antibiotic every time one becomes defunct. A large pharmaceutical company would have to spend millions, or even billions, of dollars to research and develop new medicine. While not only financially burdensome, this approach is also very time-consuming. The simpler and more logical way to combat the rise of superbugs is to use the tools and information available now while new antibiotics are being developed.

Dr. Robert Bonomo, a professor of medicine, pharmacology, molecular biology and microbiology at CWRU, has expressed his support of the production of new medicines.