Health scan: How stubborn bacteria avoid antibiotics

The mechanism used by some bacteria to survive antibacterial treatment has been revealed for the first time by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers.

resistant bacteria 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
resistant bacteria 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The mechanism used by some bacteria to survive antibacterial treatment has been revealed for the first time by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers. They suggest that their work could pave the way for new ways to control such pathogens.
In addition to the known phenomenon in which some bacteria achieve resistance to antibiotics through mutation, there are other types, known as “persistent bacteria,” that are not resistant to the antibiotics but simply continue to exist in a dormant or inactive state when exposed to antibacterial treatment. These bacteria “awaken” when that treatment is over, resuming their detrimental tasks.
Until now, scientists have been aware of a connection between these kinds of bacteria and the pathogen’s naturally occurring toxin HipA, but they didn’t know the cellular target of this toxin and how its activity triggers dormancy of the bacteria.
Now, the Jerusalem researchers, led by Prof. Gadi Glaser of the faculty of medicine and Prof. Nathalie Balaban of the Racah Institute of Physics, have been able to show how this comes about. They demonstrated that when antibiotics attack these bacteria, the HipA toxin disrupts the chemical “messaging” process necessary for nutrients to build proteins. This is interpreted by the bacteria as a “hunger signal” and sends them into an inactive state (dormancy) in which they are able to survive until the antibacterial treatment is over.
The research on persistent bacteria has been conducted in Balaban’s lab for several years, focusing on the development of a biophysical understanding of the phenomenon.
It will be combined with other work being done in Glaser’s lab that focuses on fighting persistent bacteria in the hope of leading to more effective treatment for bacterial infections.
Anyone concerned with nutrition should concentrate on getting vitamins and minerals from food rather than supplements, say Dr. Mindy Haar, director of the New York Institute of Technology’s school of health profession’s graduate program in clinical nutrition. She agrees with the latest article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that multivitamins should be avoided and that they offer almost no benefit in preventing chronic disease.
“This is a very reputable journal and researchers and I’m really not surprised at their findings. The emphasis must be on whole foods,” said Haar. “What’s happening is people are taking much more by way of supplements than their bodies need and not focusing on what they’re eating.”
Certain supplements may help people who have known vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
But there are dangers in consuming excessive amounts of vitamins through supplementation, particularly with fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D, E and K, she said.
“It’s better to focus on the food,” added Haar. “People say, ‘I don’t have time to cook but I’m really into health: look at all the supplements I’m taking.’ That’s not healthy.”
Prof. Aaron Palmon has been elected dean of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Dental Medicine, replacing Prof. Adam Stabholz, who recently completed an eight-year term in the post. Palmon was until now head of the faculty’s Institute of Dental Sciences from 2008 to 2013 and is head of HU’s Teaching and Learning Center, which he recently established.
In recent years, Palmon introduced initiatives that increased the faculty’s student enrolment, updated its teaching programs, and improved its teaching evaluations.
These changes were adopted by HU management and are now being implemented throughout the university.
Palmon received his dental medicine degree and doctoral degree in cellular biology from the dental school, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.
In 1993, he joined the faculty’s staff and decided to devote himself to research, later heading the salivary glands molecular medicine lab. He also recently won the Milken Award for outstanding initiatives in teaching, has published over 60 research articles and is associate editor of the Journal of Oral Diseases.
The Health Ministry ran a short pilot program to find out whether a 24-hour-aday, seven-days-a-week service to help people in electric wheelchairs, which they purchased with government grants, that break down. Its national unit for rehabilitation and mobility devices set up the experimental service to help those disabled who are stuck in an electric wheelchair without the ability to reach a relative or caregiver. In the case of a malfunctioning chair, the unit lends them a new one until their own chair is fixed.
Health Minister Yael German said she had heard of numerous cases in which disabled people were left helpless when their electric wheelchairs malfunctioned.
The experiment continued until the middle of January, and on the basis of its success, the ministry will decide whether and how to continue it to improve services to the disabled. People interested in getting the service can call Kol Habriut at *5400.