UW researchers working on new antibiotics

Could fight infections that are resistant to current antibiotics

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by David Ade

 MADISON -- People are dying from things like pneumonia simply because the antibiotics used right now aren't working anymore.

The research being done at the University of Wisconsin could change all that.

Researchers say a bacteria coating on ants may be what is needed to save lives by creating new types of antibiotics.

"Our preliminary data is promising and suggests that we have found a rich and untapped source of new antibiotics." said Dr. David Andes, a professor of medicine at UW.

Andes is one of the lead researchers on this project, and says new antibiotics can be made from bacteria found on certain types of ants.

And if that type of antibiotic can be perfected, It would battle infections that are resistant to the antibiotics on the market now. Something he says the world is in desperate need of.

"if we look down the street at the hospital I work at, we have a patient everyday with an infection which we do not have an antibiotic, an effective antibiotic to treat them." Andes said.

This discovery started by accident.

"I didn't study ants to discover antibiotics. I studied ants to discover how our natural world works." said Cameron Currie, a UW bacteriology professor.

Currie is the man who unlocked the path toward the possible new treatment, figuring out bacteria on ants is the key.

"This is suggesting a new source for bacteria. And more importantly when we go into this new source, what we're finding is new antibiotics." Currie said.

The researchers say this is the most promising lead to new antibiotics in about 30 years, but it still needs more time to develop. They say they are hoping to have something out in the next few years.  

This project recently earned a 16-million dollar grant to keep things going.

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