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Author Topic: Scientists designing good-bug bacteria to prevent or cure HIV and cancer  (Read 2082 times)

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Offline datdude

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Scientists designing good-bug bacteria to prevent or cure specific diseases, including HIV and cancer..
WASHINGTON | For years, people could walk into a drugstore or health food outlet and buy a host of “probiotics.”

The natural dietary supplements — such as acidophilus or lactinex — are said to treat conditions such as children’s eczema or traveler’s diarrhea.

Unlike antibiotics, these self-help products don’t kill germs, but they supposedly confer health benefits the way vitamins and certain minerals do. Existing probiotics haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration or subjected to rigorous clinical trials. When tested, their effectiveness has been mixed, medical researchers said.

Now scientists are trying to design “good bugs,” novel forms of bacteria created in the laboratory to prevent or cure specific diseases, including HIV and cancer.

“Perhaps the only hope of winning the war against ‘bad bugs’ will be achieved by recruiting ‘good bugs’ as our allies,” Roy Sleator, a microbiologist at University College in Cork, Ireland, said by e-mail. Sleator is the editor of a forthcoming scientific journal called Bioengineered Bugs.

He said his laboratory had engineered a new generation of “designer probiotics,” which are tailored to target certain disease-causing microbes or toxins. His “good bugs” mimic receptor proteins on the surface of harmful bacteria and block their ability to infect healthy cells.

“Designer probiotics bind to bacterial toxins in the gut … thereby preventing disease,” Adrienne and James Paton, researchers at the University of Adelaide, Australia, reported in the journal Nature Microbiology.

In an e-mail response, James Paton said his lab had designed a probiotic that works against E. coli O157, a notorious microbe that has caused serious, sometimes fatal, outbreaks of intestinal disease.

The need for more effective antibiotics is widely recognized because of an alarming increase in the ability of bacteria to resist standard medicines. A special concern is the virulent MRSA — methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus — a bacterium that infects and sometimes kills hospital patients.

“Increasing incidence of antibiotic resistance … has forced clinical research to explore alternative therapeutic and prophylactic avenues,” Sleator wrote in a British microbiological journal. “Probiotics are finally beginning to represent a viable alternative to traditional drug-based therapy.”

Sleator said his laboratory had genetically engineered a harmless strain of E. coli to secrete a substance that might be useful against HIV. He’s also working on probiotics that may assist in the prevention of certain cancers.

Researchers caution that designer probiotics are under development, need further testing and government approval, and suffer a number of shortcomings.

Nevertheless, scientists have faith that designer probiotics eventually will outperform nature’s products.



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