Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland have not only discovered why antibiotics are becoming less effective at treating infections in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients — but have also found a potential solution: fat-soluble vitamins.
Lung infections, mostly those caused by bacteria, are a serious problem for people with CF and are often treated with inhaled antibiotics. Over time, these bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics, making it increasingly difficult to treat infections.
Led by professor Miguel Valvano of the university’s Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, the scientists discovered why a highly resistant strain of bacteria known to cause severe lung infections in CF patients, Burkholderia cenocepacia, doesn’t respond to antibiotics.
Their study, “Antibiotic capture by bacterial lipocalins uncovers an extracellular mechanism of intrinsic antibiotic resistance,” appeared in the journal mBio.
The team reported a mechanism by which prescribing fat-soluble vitamins could enhance the therapeutic effect of antibiotics commonly used to treat CF infections.
Researchers found that lipocalins — proteins produced by B. cenocepacia bacteria to capture and eliminate antibiotics — bind more vigorously to fat-soluble vitamins than to antibiotics. This means that vitamins such as vitamin E could help improve antibiotic treatment by “freeing” the antibiotics arrested by lipocalins, and guide them to their target bacteria to fight off the infection.
“Antibiotic resistance is a global phenomenon which prevents the effective treatment of diseases,” Valvano said in a Queen’s University news release. “Our research shows that bacteria not only can resist the action of antibiotics once they are internalized, but can also capture antibiotics before they reach and penetrate into the bacterial cells.”
He added: “Fat-soluble vitamins can ‘soak up’ the lipocalins before they have a chance to bind the antibiotics, increasing the chances that antibiotics will reach the bacteria.”
B. cenocepacia bacteria are known to be highly antibiotic-resistant and to cause severe lung infections in CF patients.
“This is an exciting and potentially life-changing finding, particularly relevant for cystic fibrosis patients who are chronically infected with multi-resistant bacteria,” said Valvano. “Armed with this knowledge, we can focus our efforts on finding alternative solutions to more effectively treat the infection in these patients. We are now exploring ways to reformulate antibiotics together with relevant vitamins for delivery into cystic fibrosis patients and assess their efficacy, so that patients can benefit from these findings.”