Antimicrobial resistance or the increasing ability of pathogenic microbes to withstand and challenge antibiotic treatment is one of the major concerns faced by modern medical science. A lot of drug resistant strains of dangerous microbes that are called superbugs have emerged. Many of the viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoa that were earlier susceptible to antibiotic treatments are becoming and more resistant now. Major cause of this increasing antimicrobial resistance is the uncontrolled availability and inappropriate usage of antibiotics, especially broad spectrum antibiotics even in minor and common infections. Widespread use of antiseptics in sanitation is also a reason. Antibiotics used in cattle and poultry industry as well as in agricultural products also play a role.
Reducing the usage of antibiotics as far as possible, as well as developing viable alternatives to antibiotics is an essential step in countering the threat of antimicrobial resistance. Use of phytochemicals and their derivatives is one alternative to antibiotics. But high levels of toxicity, as well as the chances of developing unwanted residual effects are some of the hindering facts.
Here I am proposing a new idea that may be used in developing alternatives to antibiotics for countering the threat of antimicrobial resistance.
All of us would have heard about molecular imprinted polymers. This is a new area of research in modern polymer chemistry. A molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) is a polymer that has been processed using the molecular imprinting technique which leaves cavities in the polymer matrix with an affinity for a chosen “template” molecule. The process usually involves initiating the polymerization of monomers through host-guest interactions in the presence of a template molecule that is extracted afterwards, leaving behind complementary cavities. These molecular imprinted cavities in polymers will have conformational affinity for the original molecules that were used as templates, and are used in applications such as chemical separations, catalysis, or molecular sensors.
It is obvious that currently available molecular imprinted polymers cannot be used as therapeutic agents, as they are not at all bio-friendly. But what I am saying is, if we could find out some substances having polymer-like properties in their supra-molecular level nanostructures, developing of bio-friendly molecular imprinted drugs will be a clear possibility. Once we could find a way to prepare bio-friendly molecular imprints that can act as artificial binding sites for pathogenic molecules, a whole new range of molecular imprinted drugs will evolve. I think it is a new research area that has to be explored by scientific community involved in working upon innovative drug designing techniques.
Molecular imprints prepared by using microbial glycoproteins as templates can obviously act as antimicrobial agents, since they can bind to concerned microbial glycoproteins and inhibit their interactions with biological molecules. If these molecular imprints of microbial proteins are used instead of antibiotics and other chemical antimicrobial agents, chances of developing antibiotic resistance will not arise. Substituting antibiotics with molecular imprints of concerned microbial proteins will surely reduce the threat of antimicrobial resistance to a big extent.
The biggest challenge encountered in developing a protocol for preparing bio-friendly molecular imprinted drugs is to find out an appropriate material that could be used as imprinting matrix. Various biological polymers such as globulin proteins, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids are potential candidates. It was observed that concentrated solutions containing sucrose and fructose in water act as a good molecular imprinting medium. As far as our studies at ICLRMID (International Center for Learning and Research in Molecular Imprinted Drugs) has gone, water-ethanol mixture possess somewhat polymer-like properties at nanoscale supra-molecular levels, which could be utilized for preparing bio-friendly molecular imprints that could be used as therapeutic agents. Through a specially designed process involving the interaction between microbial glycoprotein protein molecules as templates and water-ethanol matrix as imprinting medium, we can produce hydrogen-bonded “host-guest complexes” wherein templates are “guests” and imprinting matrix is “hosts”. Removal of “guest” molecules from “host-guest” complexes were attained through a peculiar technique consisting of agitation, cavitation, nanobubble formation and precipitation. As the template molecules are removed by this process, supra-molecular networks of water-alcohol molecules carrying the three-dimensional imprints of templates in the form of nanocavities will remain. These nanocavities act as molecular imprints of glycoprotein molecules used as templates. These molecular imprints will act as Artificial Ligand Binds (MIALBS) for the specific glycoprotein molecules due to the conformational affinity between them. If we use viral glycoproteins or other essential microbial proteins as templates for this molecular imprinting protocol, the molecular imprints thus prepared can act almost similar to antibiotics.
I would appeal the scientific community to take this innovative humble idea of mine forward, and develop a whole new range of molecular imprinted drugs that can substitute antibiotics and other potentially dangerous drug substances currently used as therapeutic agents or prophylactics. By this technology, I hope we can produce a whole range of target-specific molecular imprinted drugs against almost any disease. It will obviously reduce the use of antibiotics, and it ultimately it will be a great step in combating the challenges posed by antimicrobial resistance.