Silver, used for centuries to fight infection and other germs, when added to antibiotics in trace amounts makes the drugs as much as 1,000 times more effective in treating mice, researchers find. Thousands of years before the discovery of microbes or the invention of antibiotics, silver was used to protect wounds from infection and to preserve food and water. The alluring metal — which was fashioned into a multitude of curative coins, sutures, foils, cups and solutions — all but vanished from medical use once physicians began using anti-bacterial drug agents to fight sickness in the 1940s. But now, as bacteria grow increasingly resistant to these medications and new pathogens invade hospitals, some doctors are turning once again to the lustrous element that Hippocrates prescribed for patients in ancient Greece.
In a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers found that by adding trace amounts of silver to common antibiotics, the medications became up to 1,000 times more effective in fighting infections in mice.
- The silver-antibiotic combo was able to “re-sensitize” bacteria that had developed a resistance to the drugs
- It extended the effectiveness of the commonly used antibiotic vancomycin to a class of bacteria that was previously immune to its effects.
- The study is one of the first comprehensive examinations of the ways that silver affects bacteria that are known as Gram-negative.
- These bacteria are equipped with an extra protective membrane that prevents antibiotic drug molecules from penetrating and killing them.
- Even small amounts of silver ran roughshod over some of the toughest bacteria around.
- The positively charged silver ions degraded the bacteria’s protective layer, giving the antibiotics easier access to the pathogens’ innards.
- It messed with the bugs’ metabolism and their ability to manage their iron levels.