When epidemics do occur, the response time to develop and distribute treatments is critical to saving lives. Unfortunately, developing personalized drugs as countermeasures is often a slow and difficult process.
But researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder have created a platform that can develop effective, highly specific peptide nucleic acid therapies for use against all bacteria in just one week. The work is detailed in Nature Communications biology and could change the way we respond to pandemics and the way we deal with growing cases of antibiotic resistance around the world.
The Easy Accelerated Specific Therapeutics Platform (FAST) was created by Associate Professor Anushree Chatterjee and her team in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. It can quickly produce new antibiotics for any system or disease – from highly adaptive microbial superbugs to radiation poisoning in astronauts – that are specifically designed to selectively target only the bacteria of interest. The article demonstrates significant inhibition of growth and other positive responses in resistant bacteria such as E. coli, which adapt to current treatments much faster than new drugs can come to market.
Traditional methods of drug discovery typically take 10 years or more and are specific to one bug or another. Indeed, they are based on the identification of molecules of a bacterium which can then be used against other bacteria to promote human health. Unfortunately, evolution over billions of years has now resulted in strains of bacteria that are increasingly resistant to this type of approach – aided in part by the recent over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors. . FAST, on the other hand, can be used for any bug and allows rapid identification and testing of molecules that target novel mechanisms in pathogens – ahead of that curve.
Kristen Eller, a doctoral candidate in the Chatterjee group, is the first author of the new article. She said the FAST system uses the genetic makeup of bacteria to design specific, targeted antibiotics that shut down their natural means of producing essential proteins, causing them to die. She added that the platform also provides a unique strategy to deliver these treatments to bacteria which are traditionally difficult to target because they reside in our own host cells. To get around this, the platform essentially uses bacteria’s natural ability to invade our own cells and instead manipulates it to be a vector for therapy.
“The applications for the real world are immense in that we have created a platform – not just a single therapy,” she said. “It is adaptive, dynamic and can be modified to target any bacterial species that poses a threat while also being modulated to develop antivirals as needed.”
Recently, another article published in PNAS showed the use of the FAST platform to create new antibiotics against a clinical isolate of E. Carbapenem resistant coli which has been shown to be resistant to almost all antibiotics.
Chatterjee said the latter aspect is especially important as particular strains evolve, change and become more resistant over time. The goal, she said, is to quickly create tailor-made treatments specific to the region in question, the person seeking treatment or even the global health situation for example.
“The technology that we use to treat these types of health problems has to be smart enough to keep up with the evolution of organisms and also fast enough to respond to a crisis in real time,” she said. “In this platform there are several stages where you can design and create new drug targets, which is really essential.
Chatterjee said the platform could potentially be modified to develop antivirals for the treatment of colds, flu and, more urgently, COVID-19. For now, his team is working on collecting more data to develop potential treatments for COVID-19 and is starting to work for clinical trials.
“We have to think outside the box when it comes to keeping pace with pathogens because they are constantly progressing and changing,” she said. “If we can establish these processes and techniques now, we will be much better prepared the next time there is a pandemic or an epidemic.”
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Material provided by University of Colorado at Boulder. Original written by Josh Rhoten. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.