Historically, doctors used metals to treat infections. Researchers think that this treatment method may be worth a modern reexamination.
As an increasing number of bacteria develop antibiotic resistance, scientists are looking beyond this family of medications that has served us so well up until now.
As the usefulness of antibiotics begins to wane, there is an urgent need to develop new ways to treat infections.
Now, researchers at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) in Storrs say they may have found a way forward – by looking back at how doctors treated infections before the advent of antibiotics. Kumar Venkitanarayanan led the research team.
A difficult nosocomial infection
Infections contracted by patients while hospitalized for other reasons are especially likely to be antibiotic resistant.
Called “nosocomial infections,” they can be very hard to cure and can be fatal. Among the most common nosocomial bacteria is Acinetobacter baumannii (A. baumannii).
According to Venkitanarayanan, “A. baumannii is primarily a nosocomial pathogen impacting those especially with compromised immune systems, the very young, the very old, burn victims, and is also reported in the wounds of combat soldiers.”
A. baumannii is adept at outsmarting antibiotics, with an array of mechanisms for evading successful treatment.
Among these is its ability to form self-protective biofilms that facilitate travel to the lungs — sometimes causing pneumonia — and to the urinary tract. In biofilm form, it is also easier for the bacteria to spread to other patients.
After assessing a variety of metals and metalloids that doctors historically used to treat infections, the researchers settled on a metalloid, the essential mineral selenium (Se), as a promising candidate for treating A. baumannii.
Antimicrobial selenium is a recognized dietary antioxidant, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend it for daily intake.
Other researchers have also found it to be a promising counteragent to pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus)Trusted Source. Selenium is also an essential micronutrient that helps the immune system function and aids nucleic acid synthesis.