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Keeping Bugs from Pumping Drugs

A new way to defeat antibiotic-resistant microbes?

12:50pm, August 13, 2002

Give a baby a spoonful of medicine and phttt! In an instant, he's spit it all over the room. Getting the medicine down, however, isn't the whole battle. Even when an antibiotic's been swallowed, the microbe that it targets may eject it before the infection has been quelled.

In the chemical arms race between modern medicine and quickly evolving bacteria and fungi, some researchers are now opening a new front. They're attacking the machinery, known as efflux pumps, that microbes use to rid themselves of toxic materials, including drugs. These scientists are beginning to develop compounds—efflux-pump inhibitors—that have no infection-fighting power of their own but can make current antimicrobial drugs more effective.

The introduction of modern antibiotics almost 60 years ago ushered in a time when previously untreatable infections—tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and syphilis, to name just a few—could be almost miraculously cured. However, many of the micro

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