Antibiotics have saved countless lives. The discovery and widespread access to broad-spectrum antibiotics is one of the chief medical feats of the past century. But antibiotics take a toll on the trillions of bacteria and other microbes—known as the gut microbiome—that live and work in our digestive tract.
We depend on the gut microbiome for proper nutrition and immune protection. Broad-spectrum antibiotics act against many kinds of microbes. These drugs reduce the size and diversity of the gut microbiome. Frequent use of the medicines early in life has been linked to changes in the microbiome that increase the risk of problems like infections, obesity and celiac disease.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists have shown that an experimental antibiotic designed against a specific microbe is easier on the gut microbiome.
Working in the lab, researchers found that such a drug targeting staph infections caused fewer changes in the size and diversity of the gut microbiome than common broad-spectrum antibiotics. The microbiome also bounced back faster after treatment with the targeted antibiotic.
“This study shows that a targeted approach to antibiotic development helps minimize collateral damage to the microbiome,” said Charles Rock, PhD, of St. Jude Infectious Diseases. Jiangwei Yao, PhD, of Infectious Diseases, added: “By targeting staph specifically, the bacterial good guys in the gut microbiome stay to protect against new infections and other problems that pose a threat to patients.”
The research was published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.