Pending the discovery of completely new antibiotics, a study has emerged from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA, United States) that could offer an effective – and sometimes very effective – solution to infections that today are difficult to combat (in particular, those caused by bacteria that has developed a strong resistance to drugs).

What is the study about? The researchers have developed software called MAGIC to check the “strength” of combinations of 4 or 5 existing antibiotics against Escherichia coli (E. coli), one of the most common bacteria, responsible for thousands of oral and faecal infections that sometimes can be fatal, and the results were very surprising.

Overall, as reported in the journal “npj Systems Biology and Applications”, the US biologists and mathematicians analyzed 18,278 possible antibiotics combinations (including many with varying dosages), checking which were able to restrict bacterial growth (at least in the laboratory), and showed that at least 1676 of those with a combination of 4 antibiotics performed better than expected, compared to 6443 of those with a combination of 5 drugs (therefore, in total, more than 8000 combinations).

For now, all the tests have been performed in a laboratory setting and not on humans. It has to be taken into consideration, of course, that humans could have problems as a result of the combination of the antibiotics with any other drugs being taken, as well as other toxic effects that are currently unexpected. However, the result is significant as it debunks the common belief that only one or, at most, a combination of two antibiotics should be used to fight infection (according to different theories, proven wrong by the Californian researchers, the interactions among three or more antibiotics would cause their benefits to cancel one another out). On the contrary, the US biologists have highlighted that fighting an infection is like attacking a castle or a fortress: the more (different) weapons you use, the better.

Finally, the MAGIC software (acronym for Mathematical Analysis for General Interactions of Components) will be made available to the entire international scientific community since it was not created specifically for infections: it could also be used for complex diseases, like cancer, which are often dealt with using a combination of drugs. Thanks to MAGIC, researchers hope, it will be possible to achieve greater hopes of success, using new “mixes” of drugs.

Journalist since 1983, has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. Creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by on oncology, in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is currently President of the Lugano Science Foundation.