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NSAID painkillers may fight antibiotic resistant infections

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Although a wide variety of antibiotics are currently available, the number of bacteria resistant to them is ever-increasing. A glaring example is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause virulent infections resulting in death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, resulting in 23,000 deaths. As the number of these drug-resistant bacteria continues to escalate, researchers are searching for new ways to fight them. A new study has found that a common type of painkiller, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be capable of warding off antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The findings were published on March 13 in the journal Chemistry and Biology by researchers the University of Wollongong and the University of Technology (both in Australia).

Overuse of antibiotics has been blamed for the increase in drug-resistant infections; thus, the Australian researchers have been exploring the possibility of developing new types of drugs to fight bacteria. They have focused on the development of a drug that could target a bacteria’s “DNA clamp.” Binding to this clamp would enable a drug to kill a bacterium by preventing it from replicating or repairing its DNA. To kill a bacterium, existing antibiotics work by interfering with the formation of the bacterium’s cell well, or cell contents; however, no currently-available antibiotics target the DNA clamp.

The researchers have discovered a series of chemical compounds capable of adhering to the DNA clamp; in addition, they found that these drugs they were looking for may already exist. One chemical compound that could adhere to this DNA clamp was a NSAID called carprofen. Therefore, they tested a range of NSAIDs, including carprofen. They found that several NSAIDs had antibacterial activity. The investigators tested three NSAIDS: bromofenac, carprofen, and vedaprofen. They found that all three had the ability to kill bacteria; however, they were not as effective as antibiotics. More commonly available NSAIDS such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin; Advil), and naproxen (Anaprox; Aleve) were not tested.

NSAIDs work through a mechanism that is fundamentally different from that of existing antibiotics; importantly, none of the superbugs have any resistance to NSAIDs. Thus, the researchers are trying to improve the effectiveness of these compounds. NSAIDs are commonly taken to reduce the fever, aches, and pains that accompany an infection; thus, this new study notes that they also may help combat the infection.