A US research team has revived an old method that relies on minerals to fight bacteria, aiming at addressing a big health threat: the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics were developed in 1941. Before that, doctors used minerals to treat bacterial infections. Today, a team of researchers at the University of Connecticut is considering reusing this old method.
The team explained the findings in the latest issue of the Wound Medicine journal. In their study, the researchers evaluated a variety of minerals historically used by doctors to treat infections and finally decided to use selenium as an effective tool to fight the most dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as Acinetobacter baumannii.
This bacteria affects people with weakened immunity and is considered fatal. Experiments proved that selenium is capable of undermining one of Acinetobacter baumannii’s most powerful weapons, which is the ability to form active membranes that protect it from antibiotics and eases its passage to the lungs, where it causes pneumonia, or to the urinary tract.
Antimicrobial selenium is a recognized dietary antioxidant, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends it for daily intake. It is also found naturally in meats, fish, whole grains, dairy products and vegetables.
To observe selenium's efficacy with A. baumannii, the researchers carried out an experiment that mimics the environment of a wound, in which they used cultured cells. They infected areas of their "wound" with A. baumannii and selenium, while they left other samples with A. baumannii alone.
In a report published on Saturday by the Medical News Today website, the study's lead author Dr. Kumar Venkitanarayanan said: "We examined the samples under scanning electron microscopes, and we found the biofilms produced by A. baumannii were severely degraded, diffuse and structurally unsound in the selenium samples."
"There appears to be toxicity against the outer membrane of the bacteria, and it might also cause toxicity against the DNA, potentially in genes that are involved in biofilm creation," he added.
Venkitanarayanan advocates further exploration into the use of metals and metalloids as a way out of the antibiotic resistance dilemma, even as a stopgap, while researchers investigate and develop other treatments.