Growing antibiotic resistance is threatening the efficacy of health systems around the world and estimates show that in 2050 antibiotic resistance will cause 10 million deaths every year. However, scientists may have now found the weak spot of at least one drug-resistant superbug. Researchers ay the University of Copenhagen and Ross University School have developed a way to make multi-drug resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae susceptible to antibiotics again. Klebsiella pneumoniae is a bacterium that causes fatal lung and bloodstream infections.

The research team used genomics technology to measure the contributions of every gene of the bacterium to antibiotic resistance and identified several genes help the pathogen survive even when exposed to antibiotics like colistin. They then demonstrated that inactivation of one of these genes called dedA made colistin-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae completely sensitive to the antibiotic.

Similarly, they showed that inactivating similar genes in multi drug-resistant Escherichia coli, which can cause diarrhoea, urinary tract infections, severe anaemia and even kidney failure, restored susceptibility to beta-lactam antibiotics in the bacterium.

The research published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports opens up possibilities of using “helper” drugs along with antibiotics to overcome infections by drug-resistant superbugs. A class of drugs called β-lactamase inhibitors are, so far, the only such drugs currently in use. Increasing the efficacy of antibiotics with such helper drugs conceptualised by the new research could reduce the the chances of treatment failure and reduce doses of antibiotics with toxic side effects, the researchers said.