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Medical breakthrough: a drug that may kill superbugs


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SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists have found a medical breakthrough they say could save lives and make suffering from superbugs, antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA, Lyme disease and tuberculosis, a thing of the past.

That’s great news for people like Debra Painter, who got Lyme disease, a tic-born illness, from a bug bite in Alpine, Utah. The tell-tale, bulls-eye rash followed, and she began feeling completely out of sorts.

“If zombies did exist I think Lyme disease is something that could cause someone to become a zombie because it takes all the life out of you,” said Painter, a nurse and mother of two.

Doctors can do little for her, and the millions of others in the U.S. who suffer from superbugs — bacteria that have mutated to survive. Tens of thousands of people die because of them each year.

For Painter, every day is a struggle — just to be a mom and get by.

“Fatigue, headaches, nausea, loss of function on the left side of my body. But I think the most devastating was the pregnancy losses,” she said.

Most superbugs are protected by biofilms, a community of bacteria with a protective layer of chemicals that antibiotics can’t penetrate. But scientists with Curza, a Utah drug company, say their drug can penetrate biofilms and kill them.

“It was just after Christmas and we had just stumbled onto our first breakthrough. I immediately called everybody and said, ‘It worked!’ ” said Dustin Williams, a scientist with the University of Utah.

Williams said his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints inspired him to find a cure.

“I was in this area called ‘luches de los pobres,’ which means ‘a fight for the poor.’ I saw horrible infections, children who were suffering, and I wanted to do something to help.”

Doctors agree that a cure can’t come fast enough.

“Essentially, in some of these cases we’ve regressed to the place we were before penicillin, when infections would lead to death in otherwise healthy people,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan of University Hospital.

He said doctors prescribe antibiotics too much, and patients take them too frequently.

“There is antibiotic in the water, in the runoff from farms. There’s virtually antibiotic everywhere nowadays,” he said.

The new drug has worked in the lab, scientists said, both in petri dishes and on animals. Next, it goes into clinical trials beginning with healthy people whose immune systems aren’t compromised. The process could take three to five years, they said.

Painter is hoping to be a part of the second phase of clinical trials where they will test the drug on sick patients like her.

“Just to wake up and not to have to say, I hope I can do this,” she said. “I have to take naps every day just so I can be ready when my kids come home from school. So, if I could just be me again — that would be wonderful.”


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Heather Simonsen


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