Used to be that sick kids got lollypops after a visit with the doctor. But in some cases candy can be more than a reward—it can be part of the therapy. Because scientists have found that, in battling chronic infections, sugar can boost the effectiveness of antibiotics. The study appears in the journal Nature. [James Collins, Mark Brynildsen and Kyle Allison, "Metabolite-Enabled Eradication of Bacterial Persisters by Aminoglycosides] [Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]
Chronic infections can be caused by persistent bacteria that have learned how to lay low until all the antibiotics are gone. They’re not exactly antibiotic resistant, so they don’t have any special drug-destroying mutations. They just power down, metabolically speaking, and then wait until the coast is clear (of antibiotics) to come back to life. Which is why the poor patient just can’t seem to clear the infection.
To eliminate such stealthy bacteria, scientists at Boston University searched for a way to jump start the bugs’ metabolism. And they found that sugar is just what the doctor ordered. Administering sugar along with an antibiotic called gentamicin cured mice with chronic urinary tract infections, and kept the bacteria from spreading to their kidneys.
So a spoonful of sugar does more than make the medicine go down. It helps the medicine take the microbes down.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]