Scientists look to fight mutating superbugs with computer software


iStock | stokkete

iStock | stokkete

As a nurse, you’ve likely been seeing more instances of “superbugs”—bugs that mutate to become resistant to drugs that once killed them–on the job. While these mutations clearly require development of new drugs that can kill them, scientists are now using computer algorithms to stay one step ahead of the bacteria.

Researchers at Duke University are using a new software called OSPREY that works to predict how a bug will mutate to a new drug before that drug is given to patients.

“This gives us a window into the future to see what bacteria will do to evade drugs that we design before a drug is deployed,” said Bruce Donald, a professor of computer science and biochemistry at Duke who co-authored the study. The work appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, according to ScienceDaily.

Another co-author, Duke graduate student Pablo Gainza-Cirauqui, said that the software not only allows scientists to see what kind of drugs to develop, but also which ones not to develop.

“If we can somehow predict how bacteria might respond to a particular drug ahead of time, we can change the drug, or plan for the next one, or rule out therapies that are unlikely to remain effective for long,” he said.

In the current study, OSPREY was effective in identifying genetic changes in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The study currently shows promise in fighting the disease, and scientists hope that a similar computational approach will eventually help fight mutations in other diseases like HIV, influenza and cancer.

Nurses, what do you think about this software? Do you think it could help to prevent future superbugs? Weigh in below!


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