Laura R. Marks

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ScienceShot: Killing Bacteria, With a Little Help From Breast Milk

Known for its painful skin infections as much as its namesake resistance to methicillin, MRSA is a scary germ in a world where old antibiotics don't always work. But now, researchers have managed to make MRSA sensitive to methicillin again by pairing the drug with a protein complex first discovered in breast milk. In a paper published today in PLOS ONE, the researchers show that the complex, known as HAMLET (for human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells—it's multitalented) helped methicillin kill MRSA in the noses of mice at a dose of 10 micrograms, while the antibiotic alone was ineffective even at 10 times that level. HAMLET also makes ordinary bacteria more sensitive to antibiotics, so that only a fraction of the drug is needed. This image shows a healthy Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterial cell (left) next to one blasted apart with HAMLET's help (right). Bacteria seem to have a tough time developing resistance to HAMLET, and the complex doesn't have toxic side effects because therapeutic doses are no more than what a baby would drink in milk. That means a HAMLET-and-antibiotic cocktail could be the next approach for scary superbugs.

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