Drugs at the flick of a switch

European scientists have developed an antibiotic that can be switched on and off with light.

Scientists from the University of Kiev and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have produced an antibiotic sensitive to light, enabling them to control the drug’s biological activity with a flick of a switch.

The scientists were working with ‘photoswitchable’ molecules, which can alter their structure when exposed to light of a specific wavelength. By creating an antibiotic with these light-sensitive molecules, the scientists succeeded in ‘switching’ on and off the treatment, prompting hopes for treatments that more effectively target a patients’ individual complaint.

The research was published as a “Very Important Paper” in European journal Angewandte Chemie, with the scientists outlining how ‘photoswitchable’ molecules could help limit side effects of antibiotics by focusing the spatial and temporal aspects of the treatment to when and where they are required.

Professor Anne S. Ulrich, head of the research group, said: “In the future, such photoactivable antibiotics might be used as smart therapeutic agents against local bacterial infections. Usual side effects can also be minimised by switching.”

This newly developed photoactivable molecule could, in time, be applied to other peptide sequences and thus be used in other drugs, such as when creating treatments for cancer.