Potent Weapon Against Superbugs Is ... Silver

It makes antibiotics far more effective, says study

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 21, 2013 1:37 PM CDT

(Newser) – Researchers trying to figure out how to stop superbugs—strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics—may have found a silver bullet of sorts. Actual silver. In studies involving mice, researchers found that antibiotics became up to 1,000 times more effective when silver was added to the mix, reports the Los Angeles Times. The silver even made bacteria that had developed resistance vulnerable again. "We went from basically no killing to substantial killing," says a Boston University microbiologist.

Nature explains that silver had long been used to fight infection—even by Hippocrates himself in 400 BC—before the age of antibiotics. The study shed light on how:

  • Researchers found "that silver—in the form of dissolved ions—attacks bacterial cells in two main ways: it makes the cell membrane more permeable, and it interferes with the cell’s metabolism, leading to the overproduction of reactive, and often toxic, oxygen compounds. Both mechanisms could potentially be harnessed to make today’s antibiotics more effective against resistant bacteria ..."
All of which sounds great, but a physician not involved with the study cautions that silver can be toxic and that more research is needed to figure out how to add it to antibiotics without doing more harm than good to patients. (Back to Hippocrates again.)

Silver bars.
Silver bars.   (Shutterstock)
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