The efficacy of antibiotics can be modified when they are mixed together or combined with food additives or non-antibiotic drugs.
This is according to a study recently published in the journal Nature.
This research was conducted by European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) scientists and led by group leader Nassos Typas who is an expert in genome biology, microbiology and plant physiology.
Certain combinations prevent antibiotics from functioning while others can beat antibiotic resistance, depending on the bacterial species involved.
The researchers described approximately 3,000 drug combinations on three various disease-causing bacteria. It is a large-scale screening that is the first of its kind.
Specific drug combinations can fight multidrug resistant bacterial infections but these are seldom used in clinics and mostly unexplored.
This prompted the research team to comprehensively study the effect of antibiotics combined with each other and with other types of drugs and food additives in several species.
Although many of the drug combinations decreased the effect of the antibiotics, over 500 drug combinations enhanced antibiotic outcome.
These positive combinations were also assessed in multi-drug resistant bacteria that were segregated from infected hospital patients and they improved antibiotic effects.
During the study, the scientists paired vanillin (a compound that provides a unique taste to vanilla) with an antibiotic called spectinomycin. They found this combination helped the antibiotic to penetrate bacterial cells and stop their growth.
“Of the combinations tested, this was one of the most effective and promising synergies we identified,” says Ana Rita Brochado, first author on the paper and research scientist at EMBL.
However, it’s been discovered that when vanillin is paired with other antibiotics, it altered the outcome of those antibiotics.
“Antibiotics can lead to collateral damage and side effects because they target healthy bacteria as well. But the effects of these drug combinations are highly selective, and often only affect a few bacterial species,” said Nassos Typas.
“In the future, we could use drug combinations to selectively prevent the harmful effects of antibiotics on healthy bacteria. This would also decrease antibiotic resistance development, as healthy bacteria would not be put under pressure to evolve antibiotic resistance, which can later be transferred to dangerous bacteria.”
He also stated that combinations of drugs that reduced the effect of antibiotics could also be beneficial to human health.