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Flashy drug spotlights infection

Doctors may be able to watch for invading microbes with a fluorescent antibiotic

GLOWING INFECTION  By fusing a fluorescent chemical to an antibiotic, researchers could visualize bacterial infections in a mouse. Bacteria labeled with the experimental drug appear red; genetically modified bacteria, used as controls, glow blue.

Glowing antibiotics may dim the chance of severe bacterial infections, according to a study published October 15 in Nature Communications.

Researchers made the experimental drug by fusing a fluorescent tag to vancomycin, an antibiotic that embeds itself in the outer walls of certain disease-causing microbes. The tag allowed scientists to see bacterial invaders in live mice and human cadavers. The method could help doctors thwart serious infections by spying them during early, treatable stages.

“It’s a pretty smart approach,” says biochemist Jianghong Rao of Stanford University who was not involved in the study. Most importantly, he says, vancomycin and the fluorescent tag are already individually approved for human use, so the modified drug should sail through safety tests.

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