Brian Owens reports for Nature online that this, “Ancient microbial treatment could help to solve modern bacterial resistance.”
Hippocrates described the antimicrobial properties of silver in 400 BC, according to Owens and new research has found that silver can make antibiotics, “Thousands of times more effective.”
The research was led by biomedical engineer James Collins at Boston University in Massachusetts. From the report:
Collins and his team found that silver — in the form of dissolved ions — attacks bacterial cells in two main ways: it makes the cell membrane more permeable, and it interferes with the cell’s metabolism, leading to the overproduction of reactive, and often toxic, oxygen compounds. Both mechanisms could potentially be harnessed to make today’s antibiotics more effective against resistant bacteria, Collins says.
The idea is to find out what properties of silver are responsible for the increase in cell wall permeability, as the report does warn that silver can be harmful to health. Owens writes:
Ingesting too much silver can also cause argyria, a condition in which the skin turns a blue-grey colour — and the effect is permanent.
Collins says that he and his colleagues saw good results in mice using non-toxic amounts of silver. But, he adds, there are ways to reduce the risk even further. “We’re also encouraging people to look at what features of silver caused the helpful effects, so they can look for non-toxic versions,” he says.