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'Smart antibiotics' may result from UCLA research

New UCLA research published in Nature may lead to an effective alternative to antibiotic drugs for treating bacterial diseases.

UCLA microbiologists report the discovery of a new class of genetic elements, similar to retroviruses, that operate in bacteria, allowing them to diversify their proteins to bind to a large variety of receptors. The team discovered this fundamental mechanism in the most abundant life?forms on Earth: bacteriophages, the viruses that infect bacteria.

"A problem with antibiotics is that bacteria can mutate and become resistant to a particular antibiotic, while the antibiotic is static and cannot change," said Jeffery F. Miller, professor and chair of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA, who holds UCLA's M. Philip Davis Chair in Microbiology and Immunology, and who led the research team. "Bacteriophages ("phages") are nature's anti-microbials, and they are amazingly dynamic. If the bacterium mutates in an effort to evade, the bacteriophage can change its specificity using the mechanism we discovered, to kill the newly resistant bacterium."

The use of bacteriophage to treat infections is not in itself a new idea. "Phage therapy has been practiced for nearly a hundred years in parts of the world, and even in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. But now, we think we can engineer bacteriophages to function as 'dynamic' anti-microbial agents. This could provide us with a renewable resource of smart antibiotics for treating bacterial diseases," said Miller, a member of both UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and the UCLA College.

"It's a bit ironic that viruses can be used to cure bacterial diseases," said Asher Hodes, a UCLA graduate student in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, and a member of the research team. "This approach can be effective, especially for diseases where traditional antibiotics do not work well. There is the potential for treating
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
stuartw@college.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
22-Sep-2004


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