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Unusual antibiotics show promise against deadly 'superbugs'

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 An unusual type of antibiotic being developed by chemists at University of Notre Dame shows promise in defeating deadly "superbugs" highly drug-resistant staph bacteria that are an increasing source of hospital-based infections. The novel antibiotics, which could some day save lives, were described today at the 230th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the worlds largest scientific society.

The new antibiotics are synthetic forms of cephalosporin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic closely related to penicillin. They appear to kill bacteria by masquerading as components of the bacterial cell wall in order to deactivate an enzyme that functions as a key bacterial defense mechanism, the researchers say. In preliminary lab tests, the new antibiotics the first to exhibit this mimicry mechanism were effective against vancomycin-resistant MRSA, a rare but extremely deadly staph strain for which treatment options are extremely limited, they say.

"We are the first to demonstrate this unique strategy, which could provide a new line of defense against the growing problem of antibiotic resistance," says study leader Shahriar Mobashery, Ph.D., a chemist at the university. "As scientists, were trying to stay one step ahead of the bacteria. The more strategies there are to fight resistance, the better."

Besides fighting staph bacteria, the compounds have the potential to work against a wide range of other types of infectious bacterial strains that appear in health-care and community settings, he says. At least one of the cephalosporin compounds identified has entered Phase I clinical trials (human studies), but results are not yet available. More studies are needed before it can be marketed, Mobashery and his associates say.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was first identified in the early 1960s and has become a difficult superbug to tame. While searching for strategies to defeat it, Mobasher
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