The Silver Lining: Adding Silver to Antibiotics Makes Them More Effective

Silver in Antibiotics

New research shows that adding silver to antibiotics makes them more effective.

Using Silver isn’t a new method, it has been used for thousands of years as an antimicrobial agent and has been included in wound dressings and bandages to inhibit the growth of infectious microorganisms.

In a study published on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, researchers found that by adding trace amounts of silver to common antibiotics, the medications became up to 1,000 times more effective in fighting infections in mice.

“Resistance is growing, while the number of new antibiotics in development is dropping,” says senior author James Collins, a professor of microbiology at Boston University. “We wanted to find a way to make what we have work better.”

By adding silver to antibiotics, it disrupts the biological processes of bacteria, making them more permeable to antibiotics.

“It did two things,” Collins said. The positively charged silver ions degraded the bacteria’s protective layer, giving the antibiotics easier access to the pathogens’ innards. It also messed with the bugs’ metabolism and their ability to manage their iron levels.

The second effect led to the creation of molecules that can kill bacteria, including oxygen molecules that are prone to chemical reactions that can damage cells.

“We went from basically no killing to substantial killing,” said Collins.

“Overall, what we show is that small amounts of silver, non-toxic levels, can be used in conjunction with commonly used antibiotics to treat persistent infection and to treat bio-film based infections, which are problematic for medical implants,” Collins said.

With the rise of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals, this is a huge medical break-through.

Some doctors are saying not so fast though. Before adding silver to antibiotics, “we’ll have to address the toxicity very carefully,” Vance Fowler, an infectious-disease physician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says. Ingesting too much silver can also cause argyria, a condition in which the skin turns a blue-grey color — and the effect is permanent.

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