New molecule discovered for treating bacterial infections

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Every year, an estimated 100,000 Americans die from hospital-acquired infections - and one of the common causes is getting pneumonia from drug-resistant bacteria like A. baumannii. 

Developing drugs to combat such bacteria is one of the top priorities for genomics researchers - and today an MIT-led team published a journal article in Cell announcing the discovery of a new molecule aimed at doing precisely that.

Named "Halicin," the new molecule has been shown to be more effective than existing antibiotics in treating a wide range of bacterial infections in mice, including tuberculosis, salmonella, and “superbugs” like C.diff and CRE.

Multiple tests showed successful treatment using halicin. It was found to inhibit the growth of e.coli and A. baumannii, outperform the existing antibiotic metronidazole (Flaygyl) in treating C.diff, and perform better than ciprofloxacin in treating a range of other bacterial infections.

“Many antibiotics only work when the pathogen is an active state, but we found that this molecule works in either active or dormant states,” says MIT professor Regina Barzilay, one of the co-authors of the new journal article that will be published Thursday in Cell. “At a time when resistance to existing antibiotics is growing, these results show some truly promising progress in moving towards a world where patients will one day be able to get individualized medicines uniquely synthesized for their own bodies.”

The team says that their model also identified eight other antibacterial compounds that are structurally distant from known antibiotics.

The project was a collaboration between researchers across MIT, including the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), as well as colleagues at Harvard University and McMaster University.