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Dmitry Sapunkov

Stamping out superbugs

High doses of vitamin B3 could help in the battle against "superbugs" – worrisome bacteria that are growing increasingly resistant to standard antibiotic medications.

A new study shows the vitamin boosts the ability of immune cells to kill antibiotic-resistant strains of staphylococcus aureus, a common skin infection.

The research, using a form of vitamin B3 known as nicotinamide, was conducted on mice and human blood samples in the lab.

The latest findings build on earlier work that suggests vitamin B3 could have a role to play in the body's defences against harmful pathogens.

"The vitamin doesn't kill the bacteria directly," explained study co-author George Liu at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Instead, it appears to stimulate genes within certain immune cells to produce more anti-microbial proteins that then attack the bacteria, he explained.

"The mice became much more resistant to staph infections, and blood from healthy human volunteers seems to be able to kill bacteria up to a 1,000 times better," said Dr. Liu.

The researchers now want to see if the vitamin produces similar results in living patients – not just lab animals and human blood samples. A major concern is the amount of vitamin B3 that was used in the experiments. "We are talking about really doses which people should be taking only under the supervision of a physician," study co-author Adrian Gombart of Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

If patients can safely tolerate a mega dose, Dr. Liu expects that antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria would be treated with a combination of vitamin B3 and an antibiotic. "Adding this vitamin could make it more likely we can cure the patient with what we have available," he said.