Re-purposed Wasp Venom Could Lead To New Antibiotic Drugs

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to human health. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is on the rise now and is a major threat to human lives and that’s because these bacteria have upped their game. These bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics that were once used to treat them. There is an increased risk of epidemics without a novel move to combat against infections. There seems to be hope however, in the venom of an insect whose sting is very much avoided – the wasp.

According to some research carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was announced on Friday December 7, the study involved experimentation with altered venom from the South American wasp. This was done after a series of intensive study on the antimicrobial properties of a toxin found in the venom of the wasp. The venom variant was used to kill bacteria without it being toxic to human cells.

Insect venom is a complex mixture of compounds such as enzymes, proteins and peptides, and other smaller molecules. Some of the peptides in the venom serve the purpose of killing bacteria but are highly toxic to the human body at the cellular level; Hence, preventing it from being of much help to the medical field until now.
As a part of their defense, many organisms including humans, produce peptides that can kill bacteria. Many scientists have been trying to fight against the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by trying to adapt the peptides into potential new drugs.

In doing so, researchers at MIT created a variant that is toxic to bacteria but non-toxic to human cells. While carrying out the experiment in the laboratory, toxicity tests were carried out on altered wasp’s venom. Laboratory mice infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria commonly found in the respiratory and urinary tract (an example of which is Pseudomonas aeruginosa ) and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in burn injuries, were administered the proposed compound and observed for results. It was observed that the most potent of the venom variant was able to completely eradicate the bacteria in the infected mice. This may also serve the same purpose in human beings.

It was, according to Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez, ‘quite surprising and exciting’ to actually see the venom fight off a bacterial infection, as this is a feat not easily seen in experimenting with antibiotics. He, who is one of the senior authors of the paper announcing the study, also said that they had re-purposed a toxic molecule into a viable molecule to treat infections. “By systematically analyzing the structure and function of these peptides, we’ve been able to tune their properties and activity” he also said.

In the field of medicine, especially in the study of antibiotic resistant bacteria (aside from this latest discovery), De la Fuente-Nunez plans to research the possibility of antibiotics being created from other naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides. Researchers are also taking the next step after this discovery, with the hope to create variants that will be capable of fighting off infection at lower doses.
With the increase in the spread of infection and bacteria everywhere, it is expedient that new ways to treat infections be sought after. Even as drug-resistant bacteria become all the more common, it is important that potential sources of antibiotics (like the aforementioned wasp venom) be discovered and pursued.

This research carried out was funded partly by the Ramon Areces Foundation and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Alex Barker is a full-time Pharmacist, media company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He is also is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps busy professionals build successful side businesses.

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