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Silver, The Secret Ingredient for Fighting Bacterial Infections

Update Date: Jun 20, 2013 03:49 PM EDT

Traditionally, silver has been used in the medical field and clinics. Researchers have been aware that silver can be used to treat bacterial infections but did not know how. In a new study, researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University revisited the use of silver in combatting bacteria that have grown resistant to the current antibiotic treatments today. The researchers used a silver compound and were able to boost antibiotics strength in killing off bacteria.

"The results suggest that silver could be incredibly valuable as an adjunct to existing antibiotic treatments," said Jim Collins, Ph.D., a pioneer of synthetic biology and Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute reported by Medical Xpress. Collins is also the William F. Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University, where he heads the Center of Synthetic Biology.

Using mouse models, the researchers found that when they used a silver-containing compound and added it to current antibiotic treatments, the compound seemed to have strengthened the power of the antibiotics. For example, when the silver compound was added to the antibiotic, vancomyan, which normally fights against gram-positive bacteria such as staph and strep, it became capable of treating gram-negative bacteria as well.

The researchers found that when silver comes into contact with bacteria, it triggers the production of reactive oxygen species. This increased production effectively damages the bacterial cell's DNA and enzymes. Silver also appears to affect the bacteria cell membrane. On top of that, the researchers found that the silver compound made bacteria that developed an antibiotic-resistance sensitive to the treatment once again.

This study's findings suggest that new techniques can be used to treat bacteria with resistance. Currently these antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria pose a threat for humans. The study was published in the Science Translational Medicine

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