Are PPMOs the Next Generation of Antibiotics?

antibioticsantibioticsWe hear over and over again in the news that doctors may be over-prescribing antibiotics to patients. This in turn may be one of the factors leading to new strains of antibiotic-resistant illnesses, from strep throat being spread around a classroom, to MRSA, to bacterial diseases that are being spread in some hospitals.

When my son was a baby he had recurrent ear infections. Any parent who has dealt with this knows that ear infections mean antibiotics, and when a child continues to get ear infections, he or she gets more rounds of antibiotics. After having had nine ear infections in his first two years, we had tubes inserted in his ears, and the ear infections subsided. He does still get strep throat from time-to-time, which means yet another round of antibiotics.

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As a parent having seen him take so many rounds of antibiotics in his young life concerns me tremendously, fearing that one day he may contract an infection that antibiotics may not be able to control. I worry about this for myself too, having been on several rounds of antibiotics during my pregnancies.

Now it is possible that antibiotic resistance may become a thing of the past. Last week, researchers introduced a new type of antibacterial agent called a PPMO, which may eventually replace today's antibiotics. PPMO's are specifically designed to target the genes of a bacterial infection. Studies done so far on animals show that PPMO's perform as well or even better than antibiotics, and they were effective in cases where bacteria had become resistant to antibiotics.

It sounds a little like something out of a movie, doesn't it?

We have some time yet before these new PPMOs become widely used, particularly for something like recurrent ear infections in toddlers. Yet researchers hope that in the near future PPMO's will offer a more precise approach to managing bacterial infections. Who knows? The future of medicine may be designing these types of medicines which can target almost any bacteria or gene.

In case you were wondering, PPMO stands for peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomer. It sure is a mouthful which barely any of us could pronounce, so we should get used to the abbreviation of PPMO instead.

The up-side to PPMO's is that we may soon have more effective medicines to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance. The down-side, at least in my opinion, is that we do not yet know the down-side. As promising as this discovery may be, I cannot help but think of all the times in the past that new concepts have been widely introduced and adopted into our society, only to find out years down the road that they were not so good for us in the first place.

- By Jessica Cohen
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