60-Second Science

Pain Pills May Be Future Antibiotics

By interfering with bacterial DNA repair and reproduction, some NSAID pain drugs could find future use as antibiotics. Christopher Intagliata reports 


The pain-relieving effects of drugs like ibuprofen are well known. But ibuprofen and its relatives, known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may someday have another use—as antibiotics.

Researchers tested three anti-inflammatory drugs: bromfenac, used in eye drops, and carprofen and vedaprofen, both for treating conditions like arthritis in dogs. The investigators found that all three drugs bind to something called the "DNA clamp" in bacteria. That clamp is essential to repairing and replicating DNA. By jamming it, the painkillers can actually kill live E. coli—in a test tube, at least.
The findings appear in the journal Chemistry & Biology. [Zhou Yin et al, DNA Replication Is the Target for the Antibacterial Effects of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs]
Study author Aaron Oakley, of Australia's University of Wollongong, says we still need clinical trials to tell if this trick holds true in humans. But this study is a first step. "I guess it alerts a lot of clinicians to the fact that some of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories that they're using may have this off-target effect." And it gives drug developers—like Oakley and his colleagues—a whole new way to attack antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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