Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Treatment of Legionnaires’ disease typically involves a series of antibiotics that seek out and kill the present bacteria in a person’s system. This type of treatment is generally very effective, but as discussed in previous posts on this blog, there is concern about overuse of antibiotics leading to drug-resistant bacteria. However, a new potential treatment method has emerged as a secondary effect of specific cancer drugs.
BH3-mimetic drugs target and switch-off BCL-XL proteins inside cells. This helps with cancer treatment because it prevents the cancer cells from surviving apoptosis – programmed cell death. Coincidentally, the BCL-XL protein is a very important part of the Legionella bacteria and is dubbed the “survival protein” in an article from LaboratoryNews. BCL-XL is the only protein that has the function of keeping the bacteria alive, so when it is switched off by BH3-mimetic drugs, the bacteria in the macrophages and lung epithelial cells die. Macrophages and other cells that do not contain the BCL-XL protein are not affected by the drugs, so this successfully destroys the bacteria without damaging the hosts normal cells.
Of course cancer medications should not be given to someone who is suffering only from Legionnaires’ disease, so there is some work that needs to be done to isolate the specific compounds. However, any breakthrough in the medical field (even accidental ones) are generally considered a success and can lead to the development of more effective medicine.