Are antibiotics working against themselves, the risk of using hormone-based birth control methods and is the 6-decade-old drug disulfiram making a comeback to cure cancer?

A New Antibiotic Weakness—Drugs Themselves Help Bacteria Survive

(Scientific American, 12/4/2017, Melinda Wenner Moyer)

Antibiotic treatment is often life-saving but new evidence shows that the medications sometimes work against themselves. Even when microbes haven’t acquired drug-evading genetic mutations—a hallmark of antibiotic resistance—the medications don’t always clear infections. A new study published this week in Cell Host & Microbe, identifies a surprising reason why. At infection sites, antibiotics change the natural mixture of chemicals made by the body in ways that protect infecting bacteria. They also thwart the ability of the host’s immune cells to fight off the intruders. Down the line it may be possible to administer antibiotics along with other substances that either mitigate these changes or have the opposite effect, making drugs more effective

Birth Control Pills Still Linked to Breast Cancer

(NY Times, 12/6/2017, Roni Caryn Rabin)

Women who rely on birth control pills or contraceptive devices that release hormones face a small but significant increase in the risk for breast cancer, according to a large study published on Wednesday. According to a paper published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. Birth control may be increasing women’s chance of developing breast cancer by as much as 38 percent. The link with cancer risk exists for not only older generations of hormonal contraceptives but also the products that many women use today. While a link had been established between birth control pills and breast cancer years ago, this study is the first to examine the risks associated with current formulations of birth control pills and devices in a large population.

An old drug for alcoholism finds new life as cancer treatment

(Science Magazine, 12/6/2017, Jocelyn Kaiser)

Historically, disulfiram was a given to alcoholics, but the 6-decade-old drug (commercially known as Antabuse), which makes people feel sick from drinking small amounts of alcohol, might also be a cancer fighter. Researchers have finally figured out how—by blocking a molecule that is part of a process that gets rid of cellular waste. In the new study, a Danish-Czech-U.S. team first firmed up the drug’s anticancer effects by combing through Denmark’s unique cancer registry—more than 240,000 cases diagnosed between 2000 and 2013, along with data on the medications each patient took. Of the more than 3000 patients taking Antabuse, the cancer death rate was 34% lower for the 1177 who stayed on the drug compared with those who stopped taking it, the researchers report today in Nature. The drug was an equal opportunity anticancer weapon; its benefits held for prostate, breast, and colon cancer, as well as cancer overall.


—Compiled by Social Media Specialist Jillian Scola