Researchers Propose Biological Therapy Alternative to Antibiotics


A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University has announced a breakthrough in the worldwide search for an alternative to the use of antibiotics in the treatment of disease.

For the last century, antibiotics have served as the main treatment against germs, being both efficient and cheap. Antibiotics are chemical agents, which are designed to block and destroy specific cells, such as microbial cells. However, since some biological mechanisms are common to both human and microbial cells, the range of antibiotics that can safely be used without harming the patient is limited. For example, cell wall components of many strains of microbes are common to human cells; therefore, any damage caused to the microbial cell walls can lead to extensive damage to body systems.

Furthermore, in recent years the number of microbial strains that are antibiotic resistant is on the increase, which presents new challenges of how to defend the body from microbes in the post-antibiotic era.

As Dr. Natalia Freund, the leader of the research project, said: “Antibiotics are highly efficacious and cost effective, and therefore for the last years have been our only weapon against bacterial infections. Unfortunately, antibiotics have become less and less effective, and in the main cases of drug-resistance physicians are empty handed in finding an appropriate treatment for their patients.

“Therefore, new ways to kill bacteria are urgently needed. Advances in biological medicine have enabled us to rout the germs in new ways that are not based solely on antibiotics, and therefore allow a solution to the challenge posed by resistant germs. Our study is an initial proof of concept of employing monoclonal antibodies (derived from single cells) as an effective therapy in combating bacterial pathogens,” said Dr. Freund.

Dr. Freund along with doctoral candidate Avia Waston at the Sackler Medical Faculty, succeeded in isolating monoclonal antibodies, which hindered the growth of tuberculosis germs in laboratory mice. The antibodies were isolated from a patient who had succumbed to active tuberculosis disease but had since recovered.

This is, in fact, the first time in history that researchers have managed to develop a “biological antibiotic” and demonstrate that human monoclonal antibodies can act as a substitute for the traditional chemical antibiotics and protect mice from pathogenic bacterial challenge. The study was carried out in a collaboration with two additional laboratories from the US and China and was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications.

In view of the success of the study, Dr. Freund’s laboratory is investigating the possibility of extending the “biological” substitute for antibiotics to include other diseases. “The model that has proven successful in this study will enable us to extend our future work to include other diseases such as pneumonia and staphylococcus infections,” she said.

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