OU Researchers Search For Ways To End Antibiotic Resistance Crisis

Thursday, September 13th 2018, 4:14 pm
By: News 9, Robin Marsh

Nearly two million Americans become infected with germs resistant to antibiotics each year and more than 23,000 more die from these infections.

Currently on CDC's radar is the "nightmare bacteria", a bacterium that is resistant to most if not all antibiotics.

For years, doctors and researchers have warned about antibiotic resistance, but the problem has now reached dangerous levels.

"This is a problem worldwide," said Dr. Hal Scofield, OMRF Immunologist. "There are infections these days that there are no antibiotics choices for because the bacteria are completely resistant to all the drugs."

Dr. Scofield said while antibiotics have saved millions of lives, the more we use them the less effective they become.

"There's still ongoing work looking for new antibiotics, but as fast as we can find them, the organism becomes resistant, so it's an ongoing battle," he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, researchers uncovered 221 instances of resistance in the so-called "nightmare bacteria," the dangerous germ, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE, which can become deadly if it gets into the bloodstream, urinary tract or lungs.

"The public authorities have sounded the alarm,' said Dr. Stephen Prescott, OMRF President. 

Because these bacteria can rapidly adapt, and once antibiotic resistance takes hold, it's hard to control. It can spread to people, into hospitals and even to other germs. 

"If we can disrupt the process by which bacteria do this that would be a big leap forward, that would extend the life of these new drugs, substantially," said Dr. Prescott.

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are trying to do just that. The team received a $5.7 million grant to analyze resistant bacteria to find out why it becomes resistant and how to stop it.

"We're trying to find drugs that can be combined with antibiotics and make them active again," said Dr. Helen Zgurskaya.

Or they could develop a new and improved antibiotic altogether. To do that, these researchers at OU are screening different compounds to find new molecules that will attack these drug resistant bugs. 

"I do hope that with all this effort eventually we'll bring it under control, where now, it's not," said Dr. Zgurskaya. 

These deadly germs primarily lurk in hospitals where healthcare officials constantly look for better ways to protect patients.

At Norman Regional Health System, four robots are used inside patient rooms.

"They do not clean, they disinfect," said Clyde Brawner, Norman Regional Health System. "They fuse the DNA of the microscopic germs which results in them not being able to replicate themselves. So, if you change the DNA makeup it can't reproduce, in a sense killing the germ."

Using UV light, the robot runs in three five-minute cycles, disinfecting everything the light touches.

"It's important to do this so a patient can come into a hospital where they feel safe, where they know they will not only be treated for the care in which they've came but they will not be susceptible to anything else that may be in the air or possibly exposed to," said Brawner.

The CDC also recommends a "swat team" approach at hospitals. If there's an infection, they bring everybody together including the doctors, patient and nurses. They isolate the patient, then make sure people wash their hands properly. They also test contacts of people who seem to be fine that could be harboring the infection.

With an increase in CRE infections reported nationwide, the Oklahoma Department of health decided to start tracking the number here in Oklahoma.