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UCSB researchers develop test which they say may give new life to overlooked antibiotics

UCSB researcher Mike Mahan thinks they have developed a more accurate test for prescribing antibiotics.
(Mahan Lab)
UCSB researcher Mike Mahan thinks they have developed a more accurate test for prescribing antibiotics.

Researchers say the test used for decades by doctors to prescribe antibiotics can be inaccurate

A new test developed by some UC Santa Barbara researchers shows that we may already have the antibiotics at our local drug stores to treat what are thought to be “superbugs," which are drug resistant bacteria.

"We developed a new antibiotic test that reveals that FDA-approved antibiotics that are available at your neighborhood pharmacy can cure multi-drug resistant infections," said Mike Mahan.

The UC Santa Barbara professor said the issue is that the medical world relies on a simple, yet decades old test to diagnose what antibiotics to use.

"What's the discrepancy between the old, and the new test? Basically, people aren't Petri plates," said Mahan. "By simulating conditions in the body, the new test identified some standard antibiotics which were rejected by the old test."

Mahan said they sought to come up with a test which would more closely replicate human growing conditions for bacteria, rather than the growing medium used in a Petri dish.

The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Cell Reports Medicine.

The team included Mahan, Douglas Heithoff, Lucien Barnes and Scott Mahan. They collaborated with Dr. John House with the University of Sydney in Australia, and Dr. Jeffrey Fried and Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons at Cottage Hospital, in Santa Barbara.

The UCSB researcher said the findings have huge implications for the ongoing concerns about the overuse of antibiotics, and the fight against bacterial resistance. And, Mahan said this will be welcome help for doctors, who know about this issue, but don’t have a simple alternative to the commonly used current test.

Mahan said they aren’t patenting the new test. The are making it available for free to others to develop. They want drug companies and the medical world to embrace it.

The next step in the research effort is human testing, which is being done in conjunction with Cottage Hospital.

The researcher says one of the beauties of the new test is that is can replace the old one without additional cost or equipment being needed. But, he admits change can be slow. The World Health Organization adopted the current test as the international standard more than a half century ago. Mahan think it could take five years for the new test to come into widespread use.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.