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Tick protein helps antibiotics combat MRSA super bug

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A protein derived from ticks enhances the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a Yale University-led study.

The strategy of using the protein in combination with existing treatments can help address the growing challenge of antibiotic-resistant MRSA and other staph infections, the researchers said.

Resistance to antibiotic treatment is a widespread problem in medicine, and MRSA is a prime example of a resistant bacterium that can cause deadly infections. Staphylococcus bacteria like MRSA are able to resist treatment, in part, because they secrete a protective outer layer — a biofilm — that prevents the immune system and antibiotics from gaining access to them.

Researchers have identified a tick protein, IAFGP, that alters the biofilm. In the study, the Yale-led team combined the protein, and a molecule derived from it, with antibiotics currently used to treat MRSA as well as other antibiotics that are not standard treatment.

The researchers tested the combination of agents — IAFGP with three different antibiotics — in culture and also in MRSA-infected mice and flies. They found that in each case, the combination improved the ability of the antibiotic to combat the bacteria.

“If you take this protein and you add it to the current treatment, it makes the treatment much more potent,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Erol Fikrig, chief of the Infectious Diseases Section at the Yale School of Medicine. “If you take the protein and add it to drugs not used in current treatment, it makes them potent as well.”

While the study was not done in people, it provides a novel strategy for tackling antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. MRSA, which has become resistant to several different antibiotics, can cause severe infections affecting the skin, lungs and blood.

“Our hope is it expands the group of antibiotics that can be used to treat methicillin” resistance, Fikrig said.

The findings were published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy.

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