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Lysins To Kill (video)
February 11, 2003

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Interviewee: Dr. Vincent Fischetti, Rockefeller University.

Video is 1 min 38 sec long. Please be patient while it loads enough to start playing.

Produced by Liza Acevedo

Copyright ScienCentral, Inc., with additional footage from MGM Studios and Rockefeller University.

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Elsewhere on the web

American Society for Microbiology phage pages

Lysis simulation

Biologists at Rockefeller University are testing a new way to fight dangerous bacteria, including things like deadly anthrax.

As this ScienCentral News video reports, it pits nature against nature.

The New Antibiotic

At Rockefeller University in New York City, microbiologist Vincent Fischetti and his team discovered a new way to kill bacteria. The team uses chemicals they call "lysins," which are produced by viruses, to kill bacteria.

Fischetti explains what a lysin is and does: “A lysin is an enzyme produced by a bacteriophage. A bacteriophage is a virus that infects bacteria. So when a bacteriophage infects a bacterium, it enters the bacterium and replicates and produces hundreds of progeny inside that bacterium. At the end of this growth cycle it has a problem: It has to get out of the bacterium. And it solves the problem by producing an enzyme called ‘lysin’ that punches a hole in the bacteria, causing the bacteria to explode."

The phages are very specific about which bacteria they’ll attack. For every bacterium there is a bacteriophage that can kill it and each makes a specific lysin. So far the bacteria have not been able to become resistant to any of the lysins, even though Fischetti has tried to force such resistance.

What does all this mean for us?

The team is now testing specific lysins that kill dangerous bacteria such as, streptococci (which cause strep throat), and staphylococci, (which cause many serious staph infections), and enterocci (which cause resistant hospital infections).

Fischetti says there are various environments where there is a need to control these organisms. “If we can eliminate these organisms safely we can eliminate a lot of disease," he says. "We never had a reagent that can specifically remove these organisms from such membranes, and we can now use those enzymes to remove these organisms from the population and thus reduce infection. So I think in hospital environments, in nursing homes and also in day care centers—where we have to control these types of organisms—we may now have a reagent to control those bacteria, to reduce infection in these environments.”

We may now have a new way to kill nasty bacteria that affect us more often than we would prefer. These new bacteria killers are not available today, but Fischetti anticipates them to be available to the general public in five to six years. Soon we may be picking up more than our standard cold medicine at our local pharmacy.

“We anticipate that these enzymes will be in liquid form," says Fischetti, "where we can spray them in orally or nasally. Because all we need is contact with the enzyme to the bacteria in order for the kill to occur. It occurs instantly.”

Such a spray would be very convenient for parents trying to knock out the common throat infections that their children tend to pass among one another. According to Fischetti, we already carry this bacteria in our throats up to 40 percent of the time—even without being sick the bacteria is in us already, just waiting for a chance to attack.

And speaking of attacks…

Last fall Fischetti's group showed that the lysin produced by the virus that attacks anthrax can not only kill anthrax bacteria, but can also is used to design a quick, portable anthrax detector. Currently the team is trying to create a safe way to use these lysins to treat humans should another anthrax attack happen.

“We’re testing against anthrax right now. We are able to kill the organism directly in the blood,” he says. “We’ve been able to do those experiments where we could do an IV drip of the enzyme in the blood to control these organisms. So were anticipating doing these anthrax enzymes with authentic anthrax this coming summer in mice or rabbits, then moving to the monkeys. If that’s successful, we will then move to safety studies in humans, and at that point we will probably stockpile it in the event of an attack.”

The research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

by Liza Acevedo

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