Alarm over 'unbeatable' enzyme that could make all bacterial diseases resistant to antibiotics
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 3:43 PM on 11th August 2010
• Gene makes bacteria resistant to almost all antibiotics
• Patients brought enzyme back from India and Pakistan
An enzyme that can make any bacteria resistant to antibiotics that has 'an alarming potential to spread' has reached Britain.
Fifty cases have already been reported in the UK, brought in by patients who have had surgery or other treatments in India or Pakistan.
Scientists have warned that the new gene - called New Delhi-Metallo-1 - infects bacteria allowing them to become resistant to nearly all known antibiotics.
Vulnerable: Young and elderly patients will be particularly susceptible to the 'superbugs', which have emerged recently and are immune to almost all antibiotics
It has been seen largely in E. coli bacteria, the most common cause of urinary tract infections, and on DNA structures that can be easily copied and passed onto other types of bacteria.
The 'super' bacteria has been found in patients traveling to areas of Asia for cosmetic surgery, cancer treatment and transplants, who have then returned to Britain for further care.
The enzyme can jump easily from one bacterium to another and experts fear it will start attaching itself to more dangerous diseases causing them to become resistant to antibiotics.
The spread of the enzyme that makes any bug 'super' The enzyme New Delhi-Metallo-1 or NDM-1 was first reported in a Swedish patient in 2008. This patient had previously received medical treatment in India.
A spate of cases have since been reported in the UK. Many of these patients had gone to India or Pakistan for elective operations such as cosmetic surgery.
In 2009, the Health Protection Agency issued an alert reporting that NDM-1 was resistant to most antibiotics.
Today a study in The Lancet confirmed the UK to be the first western country to register the 'widespread presence' of the bacteria, with 50 cases. The researchers said this was 'unsurprising' given the 'historical links between India and the UK.'
They added that the bacteria will probably spread worldwide as India provides cheaper cosmetic surgery for Europe and the U.S as well.
The researchers said enzyme-enhanced bacteria appeared to be already circulating widely in India, where the health system is much less likely to identify its presence or have adequate antibiotics to treat patients. Scientists warn in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases that 'it has an alarming potential to spread and diversify'.
Professor David Livermore, from the Health Protection Agency, who co-wrote the research with Professor Timothy Walsh from Cardiff University, said: 'The NDM-1 problem is likely to get progressively worse in the foreseeable future. 'The potential for wider international spread and for NDM-1 to become endemic worldwide are clear and frightening.'
A team of experts has tracked the enzyme in Britain, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and believes it to be more widespread than first thought. The gene has also been detected in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the U.S. and Sweden.
It is said to be resistant even to a class of antibiotics known as carbapenems, which are reserved for use in emergencies and used when bacteria are found to be resistant to more commonly prescribed antibiotics.
Worryingly, there are only two antibiotics that work against NDM-1 and the likelihood is that they will also be overcome before long. Professor Walsh said: 'In many ways, this is it. This is potentially the end. There are no antibiotics in the pipeline.'
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