By Emma Yasinski
Triclosan, an antibacterial compound commonly found in toothpaste, may do more than prevent gingivitis, according to a new study.
Researchers at Michigan State University found that when combined with another common antibacterial agent, tobramycin, triclosan can kill up to 99.9% of a type of bacteria that infects patients with cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease.
Triclosan, though controversial, is FDA-approved for use in toothpastes and antibacterial soaps. It is known to help prevent and kill infections caused by biofilms, which are notoriously resistant to usual antibiotic treatments. Gingivitis is the result of excessive biofilm growth around the teeth and gums.
Christopher Waters, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University, and his team had previously found small molecules that were able to inhibit the formation of these biofilms, but nothing that would work to break down biofilms that had already formed.
“That’s really the clinical challenge - biofilm infections just don't respond to antibiotics so they become chronic infections and are never fully eradicated.” Dr. Waters explained to Incisor.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by a genetic mutation, which leads the patient to develop a thick, mucus biofilm on the lungs, which can house and protect dangerous bacteria. This biofilm makes the bacteria especially difficult to kill.
“The antibiotics that are used in the clinic are really ineffective,” said Dr. Waters.
He and his colleagues screened more than 6,000 compounds using high-throughput screening methods, searching for substances which might be able to combat mature biofilms. The screen suggested that triclosan might work, but Dr. Waters was surprised at just how effective it was. In only 24 hours, the combination of tobramycin and triclosan was able to eradicate Psuedomonas Aeruginosa, which frequently takes advantage of biofilms in the lungs of CF patients.
“This combination kills a hundred times better [than the antibiotics traditionally used in the clinic,]” said Dr. Waters.
Next the team hopes to bring the drug combination to the clinic. He emphasized that while the study looked at CF, he hopes the compounds will be able to help patients with a variety of biofilm-based infections, such as non-healing diabetic wounds.
Author: Contributing writer Emma Yasinski received her Master of Science (MS) in science and medical journalism from Boston University. Her articles have also appeared at TheAtlantic.com, Kaiser Health News, NPR Shots, and Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.
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