Superbugs vs. Superb Vitamin

A common vitamin may be a powerful weapon against a public health threat perpetrated by “superbugs.” These antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria cause nasty—and sometimes lethal—infections. Now, Cedars-Sinai researchers have found that high doses of a form of vitamin B3 boost the immune system’s power to fight back.

Staph bacteria tend to hang out in hospitals and pose a special hazard to patients with weakened immune systems. By stimulating a specific gene, known by the acronym CEBPE, scientists enhanced white blood cells’ ability to combat staph infections. The method even worked on the most infamous strain, commonly known as MRSA.

“It’s critical that we find novel antimicrobial approaches to treat infection and not rely so heavily on antibiotics,” says George Liu, MD, PhD, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Cedars-Sinai’s Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center and co-senior author of the study, which received worldwide attention. “That’s why this discovery is so exciting.”

Studies show that vitamin B3 enhances the ability of the immune system to kill staphylococcus aureus bacteria by up to 1,000 fold. In tests on human blood, clinical doses of the vitamin appeared to virtually wipe out staph infection in only a few hours. However, until formal testing in patients can be completed, people are cautioned not to treat a suspected infection by taking vitamin B3. Instead, a physician should be consulted.

The researchers have also been examining a rare blood disorder called neutrophil-specific granule deficiency, which afflicts only a handful of people in the world. Patients with this rare disease have a mutation in the CEBPE gene—and, as a result, suffer from weakened immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to life-threatening infections, including staph. The goal in studying this uncommon disorder is to uncover insights into the immune mechanisms that protect healthy individuals against such infections.

Researchers are hopeful that the vitamin, along with other compounds, may be effective against other antibiotic-resistant bacteria like staphylococcus—thereby offering valuable ammunition against infection.