Watch CBSN Live

A Drug-Resistant Bacteria Breakthrough?

Several common antibiotics are no longer useful in treating some very bad infections. But scientists in North Carolina say they may have at least a partial solution.

Biochemist Matthew Redinbo supervised the research team at the University Of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and stopped by The Early Show on Friday to explain their discovery.

"The problem is antibiotics are wonder drugs. These are things we've used so much, sometimes we've misused them … they become resistant," Redinbo explains.

Once the bacteria become resistant, they multiply. "Bacteria can be very social. They take these little genes that cause resistance and pass them directly from bacteria to bacteria. In a single infection, you can start to have everybody being resistant," Redinbo says.

This can include staph infections, which can be deadly.

What researchers did was take drugs used for something else and found a way to possibly block this bacterial process. "The way these genes are moved directly between cells, there's a protein required for that. And we looked at that protein. And we found these old drugs might fit into that protein and block its ability to pass those pieces of DNA," Redinbo explains.

The drugs researchers used are bisphosphonates, anti-bone loss drugs or osteoporosis drugs. Redinbo says not all the drugs they tried worked, but that two of them were very potent.

Redinbo says one of his students, Scott Lujan, made a prediction that these approved drugs would work in the fight against resistance and says he turned out to be right.

What about patients, who are hospitalized right now and suffering from these infections?

Says Redinbo, "It's certainly possible that a doctor could treat with these. I think the important thing in this discovery is we've shown there's a new Achilles heel. If you can sort of disrupt that, you might prevent these guys from spreading their resistances or just kill the resistant bacteria themselves."