MIT team abuzz over use for wasp venom

Re­searchers’ an­tibi­otic eyed to treat re­sis­tant bac­te­ria

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By JOR­DAN GRA­HAM — jor­dan.gra­[email protected]­her­ald.com

Re­searchers from MIT have de­vel­oped a new pos­si­ble an­tibi­otic from the venom of a South Amer­i­can wasp, say­ing the an­tibi­otic killed dan­ger­ous bac­te­ria in mice, a po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant break­through as pub­lic health of­fi­cials con­tinue to warn about the need for new an­tibi­otics.

“We think this new an­tibi­otic we gen­er­ated, in­spired by na­ture, it’s a promis­ing can­di­date,” said Ce­sar de la Fuente-Nunez, an au­thor of a pa­per on the re­search. “We can syn­thet­i­cally im­prove the orig­i­nal wasp venom.”

The wasp, na­tive to Brazil, Paraguay and Ar­gentina, has long been known to have venom with an­tibi­otic prop­er­ties, Fuente-Nunez said, but it has al­ways been toxic to hu­mans. A team of en­gi­neers at MIT and Fed­eral Univer­sity of ABC in Brazil en­gi­neered a syn­thetic ver­sion of the venom that is not toxic but re­mains a pos­si­ble an­tibi­otic. The wasp venom works by pierc­ing a cell wall, de­stroy­ing the bac­te­ria.

“The idea here is to take that very well-crafted toxin and turn it into some­thing that can be use­ful for hu­mans and our so­ci­ety,” Fuente-Nunez said.

Other re­searchers have said venom from the same wasp could be al­tered to at­tack cancer cells.

There has been a push for the de­vel­op­ment of new an­tibi­otics, in­clud­ing from gov­ern­ment agen­cies. The wasp venom re­search is funded in part by the De­fense Threat Re­duc­tion Agency.

An­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria have in­creas­ingly be­come a pub­lic health is­sue in re­cent years. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Control and Preven­tion say at least 23,000 peo­ple die each year in the U.S. from an­tibi­oti­cre­sis­tant bac­te­ria and more than 2 mil­lion are in­fected each year.

“An­tibi­otic re­sis­tance is one of the big­gest pub­lic health chal­lenges of our time,” the CDC says. “Fight­ing this threat is a pub­lic health pri­or­ity.”

Daniel A. Solomon, a doc­tor at Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal’s Divi­sion of In­fec­tious Dis­ease, said most in­fec­tions can still be treated with stan­dard an­tibi­otics, but re­sis­tant bac­te­ria have emerged as a sig­nif­i­cant threat.

“The fact that these bac­te­ria ex­ist at all and the fact that we come into con­tact with these bac­te­ria at all, I don’t think you can over­state the im­por­tance of that,” Solomon said. “They can make peo­ple very ill, very quickly.”

Still, there are many steps be­tween a suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment in mice and the launch of a new com­mer­cially avail­able drug. As re­search con­tin­ues, FuenteNunez said the sur­pris­ing ori­gin of a pos­si­ble new an­tibi­otic is not lost on him.

“It’s seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive, para­dox­i­cal in some ways,” he said. “That’s the beauty of na­ture, you can take some­thing that may have no use and turn it into some­thing beau­ti­ful.”

STU­ART CAHILL/ HER­ALD STAFF

USE­FUL TOX­INS: MIT sci­en­tist Ce­sar de la Fuente-Nunez, who is help­ing to de­velop an­tibi­otics from wasp venom, sits yesterday.

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