Bacteria Strain Inactivates Cardiac Medicine

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digoxinAre you sure your medication is working when you take it? For certain people, a strain of bacteria in their gut is getting to their cardiac drugs and inactivating them before they’ve had a chance to work. It’s a discovery that could give new insight to human cell biology and why different people experience different reactions to certain medications.

The idea of microbes stealing and chewing through medication before they have a chance to do their job isn’t a new one. Scientists have long known that some of the multitudes of bacteria in the human gut can render certain drugs inactive. But until now, sorting out the specific culprits has been quite the challenge for researchers.

But a recent study out of Harvard University is giving scientists a new perspective on the matter. The research team focused on microbial interactions with one particular drug used to treat irregular heartbeats. Made from the foxglove plant, digoxin has been in use for over 200 years. A discovery of the gut bacterium Eggerthella lenta’s reaction to digoxin three decades ago proved that some people who harbor E. lenta will have their cardiac medication become inactive. But why didn’t E. lenta have the same effect on everyone taking digoxin?

The answer came a couple weeks ago, when the Harvard team turned their attention to the genetic makeup of E. lenta. As it turns out, not every strain of the bacteria will activate the genes that nix the digoxin. Also, the study concluded that arginine – a common amino acid found in protein – will prevent the microbe’s digoxin destructive genes.

Knowing about the interactions between bugs and drugs is just as important as
understanding medical history and genes when it comes to predicting a drug’s
effect on a person.

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