Monday, May 24, 2010

Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug: The American Military Did Something Right?!

The headline led me to expect the same old line about the evils of biological warfare and the American military: "Pentagon to Troop-Killing Superbugs: Resistance is Futile." I was pleasantly surprised. Here's an excerpt:
"Pentagon to Troop-Killing Superbugs: Resistance is Futile"
Danger Room, Wired (May 24, 2010)

"A super-germ that's become a lethal threat to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may have met its match in a novel technique that kills entire bacterial colonies within hours.

"Today's troops have a 9 in 10 chance of surviving their battle injuries. But wounds and amputation sites leave them vulnerable to infection, especially by Acinetobacter — an opportunistic pathogen (somewhat-misleadingly) nicknamed 'Iraqibacter' for its prevalence in war-zone medical facilities. As Wired Magazine reported in 2007, the bacteria has infected at least 700 American troops since 2003, and killed at least 7 people exposed to it in military clinics.

"Iraqibacter was once treated with common, easy-to-access antibiotic drugs. But in the last few years, the bacteria have developed a powerful resistance to all but one medication, called Colistin, that's got a bit of a nasty side effect: potentially fatal kidney damage.

"And since the illness afflicts relatively few people, Big Pharma companies aren't exactly lining up to develop new drugs...."
So far, nothing remarkable: and I was still waiting for the usual emotional effluvia about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the evils of capitalism, and that we're all gonna die.

It didn't happen. Back to the article:
"...But a Pentagon-funded research team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, along with small biotech firm PolyMedix, are making rapid strides toward a new line of Iraqibacter treatments — and the medications could spur the development of antibiotics that can fend off other drug-resistant ailments.

" 'We didn't set out to create a mechanism that could be applied to other illnesses,' Dr. Gregory Tew, the UMass scientist behind the project, told Danger Room. 'But it's an impressive and exciting bonus that's come of our work.'

"The scientists have already used the new type of antibiotics to effectively treat Staph infections, which kill thousands of Americans each year. Common antibiotics work by attaching to a specific molecule (like an enzyme) inside bacterial cells. With some minor adaptive changes, bacteria can alter their cell structure to prevent antibiotic binding, thereby becoming resistant to the drugs. Some infections even develop 'persister cells,' which stop growing when the antibiotics are administered, and then turn back on once a round of meds is completed.

"But Tew and co. have developed antibiotics that work from the outside to quickly destroy bacterial cells...."
Essentially, the new drugs don't make small-scale changes in the bacteria: they poke holes in the cell membranes, killing them instantly. And, short of growing the microbial equivalent of chain mail, there doesn't seem to be much the germs can do about it.

Given the resilient nature of disease organisms, I suspect that eventually there may be a super-duper-superbug that'll have that 'chain mail.' But that's another issue.

Right now, it looks like a whole lot of people will be living, who would have died otherwise. And, incredible as it may seem for someone immersed in America's dominant culture, we have the American military to thank.

Whaddaya know.

It's nice to read about something the American military did right - even if it is in a very specialized section of a niche publication. I'd like to see this sort of thing on the front page of The New York Times and Los Angeles Times: but I'm not holding my breath.

I'm not pessimistic, though. This is the Information Age, not the 'good old days,' when the 'right sort' decided what the Masses were allowed to see. ("What is an Information Gatekeeper?" (August 14, 2009))

These days, anybody with access to an Internet connection can search for information - and find it. Even if east coast newspaper editors didn't decide it was "fit to print."

About that new approach to dealing with 'antibiotic-resistant' infections: It's very good news that 'military research' was funding research that the cold-remedy companies weren't backing.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.