THE RISING increase of antimicrobial resistance, accelerated by the inappropriate use of antibiotics, is of growing concern. Beta-lactam antibiotics, such as penicillin, are regarded as one of the most important classes of antibiotics; however, growing resistance to them has prompted doctors to avoid prescribing them in favour of stronger drugs.
Callum Silver, a PhD student from the Department of Electronic Engineering at the University of York, York, UK, noted that “if we continue to use antibiotics in the way we currently do, we may find ourselves in a situation where we can no longer use antibiotics to treat patients, resulting in millions of deaths per year.” With this in mind, researchers from the University of York modified an antibiotic from the beta-lactam family enabling it to be attached to a sensor. With this method, they were able to detect the presence of bacteria resistant to treatment. The production of enzymes which can break down beta-lactam antibiotics is one of the methods for bacteria to become resistant to treatment. By attaching the modified antibiotic to a sensor surface, the researchers were able to test for the presence of these resistant enzymes and see whether the drug was broken down.
Multiple techniques were used to demonstrate that the drug is still accessible to the enzyme, implying that the modified antibiotic can also be used for antimicrobial resistance patient tests. Realising the importance of their innovative research, Mr Silver stated that “this study paves the way for the development of tests which will give doctors important information on the bacteria they are dealing with so that common antibiotics can be used whenever possible. Resistance to new antibiotics can emerge very quickly after they come into use and so we need to reserve them for when they are really needed.”
Looking forward, the team believes that the modified antibiotic can be applied to various biosensing devices for use at point-of-care. Because of the lack of diagnostic techniques to inform doctors if they are dealing with resistant bacteria, the problem of antimicrobial resistance will gradually increase. However, the new method could contribute to better antibiotic treatment and reserve stronger alternatives for the patients that need them the most. Therefore, the researchers are now working with clinicians at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, York, UK, to implement the modified antibiotic into a rapid diagnostic test for antimicrobial resistance in urinary tract infections.