Antibiotics Could Treat Cystic Fibrosis, Other Genetic Diseases

Timor Baasov
Timor Baasov

By modifying the properties of the common antibiotic gentamicin, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed what could become an effective treatment for many human genetic diseases, including cystic fibrosis (CF), Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Usher Syndrome and numerous cancers. The findings were published online March 23rd by the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Gentamicin belongs to a class of antibiotics called aminoglycosides, which are used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections.  Studies have shown that gentamicin can counteract genetic diseases, including those mentioned above that occur when mutations cause disruptions of the development processes of proteins.  The drug enables ribosomes (the structures within a cell that carry out protein synthesis) to ignore these disruptions and instead generate healthy, full-length functional proteins.

But using gentamicin to treat these diseases requires much higher doses than those commonly prescribed for bacterial infections.  At these higher doses gentamicin is non-selective and extremely toxic to humans, with irreversible hearing loss (ototoxicity) being the main negative consequence.

In search of a way to bypass these complications, Dr. Tamar Ben-Yoseph of the Technion Faculty of Medicine -- a geneticist who specializes in Usher Syndrome -- approached Professor Timor Baasov of the Faculty of Chemistry about a collaborative effort to modify existing aminoglycoside antibiotic drugs.  The team carefully monitored biological and toxicity tests of the resulting derivatives, and “NB54,” a new (and patented) chemical derivative of gentamicin, was developed.

“We’ve created a new purpose for aminoglycosides by removing their traditional, natural actions as antibiotics,” said Baasov. “The loss of their antibacterial activity makes them highly selective, less toxic, and allows for their use in repairing ‘wrong’ genes in human beings.

So far, the researchers have observed the action of NB54 in ex vivo cell lines.  They are currently awaiting data from animal model testing.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university.  Home to the country’s winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine.  The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society (ATS) is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with offices around the country.


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