The ticking bomb
that we might carry on us

SynCell News • June 17, 2020

The spread of antibiotic resistance to antibiotics (AMR) has led to an alarming situation in which we live right now. In this post-antibiotic era, it is estimated that more than 70% of all pathogenic bacteria found in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the conventional antibiotics that were used to fight them [Llor and Bjerrum 2014].

Among all the examples of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, the most famous one is found in the common Gram-positive bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus or S. aureus. This round-shaped bacterium in a usual member of the human microbiota, frequently found in the upper respiratory tract and all over our skin, asymptomatically colonizing about 30% of the human population [Foster 2017]. If you have ever developed a bacterial skin infection, the chances are that it was caused by S. aureus.

Ironically, this bacterium was the one present in the petri dish from which penicillin was first discovered by Sir Alex Fleming in 1928. Penicillin was then widely used to treat patients, which led to the first wave of resistance, which began in the mid-1940s as the proportion of infections caused by penicillin-resistant S. aureus rose in hospitals. The bacterium was able to develop the ability to synthesize a beta-lactamase (an enzyme that provides multi-resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics, as penicillin) that inactivated the effect of natural and synthetic penicillin [Chambers and DeLeo 2009].

Figure 1. Image of MRSA

Penicillin resistance stimulated the development of mutations that led to different kinds of novel resistances, such as the well-known methicillin. One of the most worrisome superbugs was first reported in the 1960s, giving origin to the bacterial strain Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which become endemic in many hospitals during 1980s [Pantosti, Sanchini and Monaco 2007].

When a bacterium that one out of three persons carries in their nose might change to an antibiotic-resistant strain, problems arise. Currently, 2 out of 100 people carry MRSA, which can be translated to actual numbers: around 120,000 invasive MRSA infections were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017, with 20,000 associated deaths, more than the number of deaths by AIDS/HIV [Chambers and DeLeo 2009].

The majority of invasive MRSA infections are contracted in hospitals. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 65% of all reported Staphylococcus infections in the U.S. were caused by MRSA, which represents a 300% increase in the last ten years.

Doctors decided to treat the problem with vancomycin, which remained active against the majority of MRSA strains. Soon after, cases of vancomycin resistance were suddenly reported. The bacteria were able to overproduce cell components that bind to vancomycin and limit their penetration in the cell [Rağbetli, Parlak, Bayram, Guducuoglu, and Ceylan 2016].

The majority of invasive MRSA infections are contracted in hospitals

Bacteria are changing, and in our desire to stop them, we are making them resistant to anything we throw at them. Consequently, the MRSA crisis is not an isolated case. There are several threats classified by the CDC as urgent, serious, and concerning issues depending on the degree of incidence and urgency of a solution that these infections required.

SynCell Biotechnology’s mission is devoted to the slowdown of the development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics by working on solutions far away from the current use of these drugs. Our technology is looking into the problem itself -bacteria- and using it to produce an alternative solution to reduce the incidence of a crisis that shall not see an end.