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Harvard Medical School
Harvard Medical School

Watch Bacteria Evolve to Become Antibiotic Resistant

Harvard Medical School
Harvard Medical School

Antibiotic resistance is one of the “biggest threats to global health today,” according to the World Health Organization, and as antibiotic use has become more widespread, bacteria are evolving to survive what used to be lethal doses of medicine. Now, you can view that evolution for yourself, as Gizmodo reports. The research is published in the latest issue of Science.

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology built a giant rectangular Petri dish—two-by-four-feet wide!—and dumped in 14 liters of agar, the jelly substance used to culture bacteria in the lab. They divided the Petri dish into sections, then watched as E. coli bacteria reacted to various doses of antibiotics in each part of the dish. The outermost section of the dish contained no antibiotics, the next just enough antibiotics to kill the bacteria, and so on. The highest dose of antibiotic administered (seen in the center of the dish) was 1000 times stronger than the lowest dose. Over the course of two weeks, scientists used a ceiling camera to watch as the bacteria adapted to their new environment, then turned the footage into a timelapse.

The bacteria could move through the sections of antibiotics, and as the bacteria reproduced and mutated, they moved into higher and higher dosed sections. The high doses of antibiotic initially killed many of the bacteria, but some microorganisms that started out in the lower doses of antibiotics mutated and evolved, allowing their descendants to survive more and more of the drug. After 10 days, some of the bacteria had evolved to survive the highest dose of antibiotics.

While Petri dishes aren’t an exact analog for the way bacteria evolve in real-life settings like hospitals, the visualization provides a scary glimpse into how bacteria can mutate to confound modern drugs. Watch it below, and remember: Take antibiotics only as prescribed, and skip the antibacterial soaps entirely! (They'll be banned soon anyway.)

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Medicine
New Cancer-Fighting Nanobots Can Track Down Tumors and Cut Off Their Blood Supply
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Scientists have developed a new way to cut off the blood flow to cancerous tumors, causing them to eventually shrivel up and die. As Business Insider reports, the new treatment uses a design inspired by origami to infiltrate crucial blood vessels while leaving the rest of the body unharmed.

A team of molecular chemists from Arizona State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences describe their method in the journal Nature Biotechnology. First, they constructed robots that are 1000 times smaller than a human hair from strands of DNA. These tiny devices contain enzymes called thrombin that encourage blood clotting, and they're rolled up tightly enough to keep the substance contained.

Next, researchers injected the robots into the bloodstreams of mice and small pigs sick with different types of cancer. The DNA sought the tumor in the body while leaving healthy cells alone. The robot knew when it reached the tumor and responded by unfurling and releasing the thrombin into the blood vessel that fed it. A clot started to form, eventually blocking off the tumor's blood supply and causing the cancerous tissues to die.

The treatment has been tested on dozen of animals with breast, lung, skin, and ovarian cancers. In mice, the average life expectancy doubled, and in three of the skin cancer cases tumors regressed completely.

Researchers are optimistic about the therapy's effectiveness on cancers throughout the body. There's not much variation between the blood vessels that supply tumors, whether they're in an ovary in or a prostate. So if triggering a blood clot causes one type of tumor to waste away, the same method holds promise for other cancers.

But before the scientists think too far ahead, they'll need to test the treatments on human patients. Nanobots have been an appealing cancer-fighting option to researchers for years. If effective, the machines can target cancer at the microscopic level without causing harm to healthy cells. But if something goes wrong, the bots could end up attacking the wrong tissue and leave the patient worse off. Study co-author Hao Yan believes this latest method may be the one that gets it right. He said in a statement, "I think we are much closer to real, practical medical applications of the technology."

[h/t Business Insider]

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New Peanut Allergy Patch Could Be Coming to Pharmacies This Year
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About 6 million people in the U.S. and Europe have severe peanut allergies, including more than 2 million children. Now, French biotechnology company DBV Technologies SA has secured an FDA review for its peanut allergy patch, Bloomberg reports.

If approved, the company aims to start selling the Viaskin patch to children afflicted with peanut allergies in the second half of 2018. The FDA's decision comes in spite of the patch's disappointing study results last year, which found the product to be less effective than DBV hoped (though it did receive high marks for safety). The FDA has also granted Viaskin breakthrough-therapy and fast-track designations, which means a faster review process.

DBV's potentially life-saving product is a small disc that is placed on the arm or between the shoulder blades. It works like a vaccine, exposing the wearer's immune system to micro-doses of peanut protein to increase tolerance. It's intended to reduce the chances of having a severe allergic reaction to accidental exposure.

The patch might have competition: Aimmune Therapeutics Inc., which specializes in food allergy treatments, and the drug company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are working together to develop a cure for peanut allergies.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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