7 Jun '12
Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
In a new breakthrough in fundamental science, Russian researchers have discovered ways of improving antibiotics-based therapies. And not only therapies, scientists of Moscow’s Vinogradsky Institute of Microbiology say. In a broader implication, the research may also help domestic and global industry prevent corrosion of pipes and equipment.
Upon completion of an extensive first stage of the research a team from the Vinogradsky Institute of Microbiology now knows quite enough about do’s and don’ts of our ‘interaction’ with pathogenic germs.
In medicine, the scientists claim that when administered in smaller-than-required quantities antibiotics, drugs commonly used worldwide to treat infections caused by bacteria, may incite the formation of medication-resistant biofilm around pathogenic microorganisms. Instead of serving as germ growth inhibitor, in such conditions those otherwise curative substances become foes, and a disease thus pushed into a chronic form takes a long time to reverse.
The research is also paving the way for developing correct techniques of combating destructive microorganisms in a broad range of industrial sectors.
Set up as an independent research entity in 1934, the Vinogradsky Institute of Microbiology is now a leading Russian Academy of Sciences branch focusing on genetics and ecology of microorganisms and viruses.
At its ten labs, the institute’s 139 research staff reportedly develop sector-specific biotechnology solutions for both medicine and industry, for example, for Russia’s oil sector.
Biofilm formation is germs’ typical response to stress. In an adverse condition, bacteria coalesce in a sort of stick-together way and generate polysaccharides that produce what biotech professionals call territorial matrix, an extracellular matter that binds all germ cells in one film.
The cell adhesion stage can be easily undone, scientists say, but reversing biofilm formation after the territorial matrix starts to build up is believed to be hardly possible.
In a hypothesis that requires further validation, the Vinogradsky Institute researchers speculate that using protein synthesis impacting antibiotics in insufficient quantities brings about what microorganisms ‘interpret’ as a stress factor. This prompts the germs to defend themselves by generating the film, rendering medication ineffective.
Getting at the root of the problem
In their work, the Moscow microbiologists have probed into how antibiotics act upon various stages of biofilm formation. To do so they reportedly used nonpathogenic germs, Dietzia sp. and Kocuria sp., secured from an oil field.
Pitted against the microbe ‘adversaries’ were antibiotics with different action patterns. One of the medicines, azithromycin, inhibits protein synthesis and delays bacteria growth and multiplication; in large quantities it is assumed to trigger bactericidal action. Rifampicin suppresses bacterial RNA synthesis and oxicillin is believed to stall the synthesis of bacteria’s cytoderm.
The germs were watched growing with different concentrations of the antibiotics; the latter were added to bacterial culture at different stages of growth. As the scientists reportedly observed, of the three types of antibiotics, azithromycin and rifampicin, added to the culture in too low a concentration to slow down bacteria growth, acted inversely to what was expected, spurring the formation of territorial matrix and biofilm rather than inhibiting it. With oxicillin, the phenomenon was not spotted.
The biofilm that stemmed from the microbes’ drug-induced matrix was then perceived to be “hundreds of times less responsive” to the antibiotics under study than free cells growing around.
Helping patients, saving equipment
The new knowledge that the Vinogradsky Institute researchers have shared alerts physicians to the danger of inaccuracies in prescriptions as regards drug doses. And it also warns current and future patients against early unauthorized withholding of antibiotics-based therapies.
Sticking to procedures keeps resisting microbes in the human body from fencing out medicines with their film shield. If allowed to build up protection, pathogenic microorganisms can long withstand therapies and not only hit the body but also damage catheters, prosthetic valves and other medical equipment used invasively on a patient. And the intruders are extremely hard to drive away.
In their adverse action biofilms do not exclusively disrupt medical treatment. They are a plague for industry as well, causing corrosion of pipes and equipment. So, with proper validation and continued research the new discovery by the Vinogradsky Institute scientists may have broader implications and lead to finding answers to these and other medical and industrial problems.