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Molecular 'homing' could combat antibiotic-resistant pathogens

May 12, 2015
by Richard R. Rogoski
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Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine and Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences have seen success in using bacteria-specific molecules to fight antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

Their study, published in the Journal of Molecular Medicine, used a novel approach by tagging bacteria with a molecular “homing beacon” that attracts pre-existing antibodies to attack the pathogens. The beacon, or Alphamer, is a small piece of DNA selected to bind to a specific bacterial target combined with an alpha-Gal, a type of sugar molecule. Because human bodies produce antibodies to attack an alpha-Gal, these pre-existing antibodies essentially are redirected to attack the targeted pathogen.

“We’re picturing a future in which doctors have a case full of pathogen-specific Alphamers at their disposal,” Victor Nizet, MD, professor of pediatrics and pharmacy at UC San Diego, said in a press release. “They see an infected patient, identify the causative bacteria and pull out the appropriate Alphamer to instantly enlist the support of the immune system in curing the infection.”