Can PRP Help Solve Our Superbug Antibiotic Crisis?

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We have an antibiotic resistance problem of epic proportions. Meaning, many people die every year because some superbug contracted in a hospital setting is no longer responsive to the antibiotics we have available. In addition, pharma has moved on to more profitable lifestyle drugs and doesn’t seem to be too interested in making expensive one-time-use antibiotics. So what’s the solution? Believe it or not, as I just personally experienced, it may be platelet-rich plasma.

The Problem of Antibiotic Resistance

It’s been called the biggest threat to global health we face right now. The superbugs found in hospitals that can kill are increasingly resistant to the big-gun (read potentially harmful) antibiotics we have available today. It’s a health epidemic because pharma companies seem to have little interest in creating brand-new antibiotics as they are much less profitable than “lifestyle” drugs, like statin cholesterol medications. There was a nice Daily Mail article on the issues with a quote that should get you to pay attention: “We risk returning to the days where common infections can kill!”

What’s the scale of this problem? About 50,000 people in the U.S. and Europe die each year of these infections. That’s enough to fill most football stadiums.

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The Solution and My Personal Experience

As one of my physician patients told me last week, “looks like you had a run-in with a dermatologist.” I was wearing a Band-Aid on my face at that point, but what he didn’t know was that I was pretty sure I had a facial infection. I was also dreading taking oral antibiotics; however, thankfully this issue was solved much more simply.

Why would I dread taking oral antibiotics? They wreck your gut microbiome, the health of which (or lack thereof) has been tied to everything from immunity, to overall health, to countless diseases. I had a severe case of the flu this winter and had to take multiple courses of antibiotics and was just getting my gut somewhat back to normal. Hence, I didn’t want to nuke it again.

My face had a small lesion that needed to be removed by a colleague (who is a dermatologist). At first, this looked fine, but about two weeks later it began to drain with some pus. I was already scheduled to get some PRP injections in my shoulders, so Dr. Pitts suggested that he inject some into the wound. While we both knew that PRP had antibacterial properties, we didn’t have any experience in whether this would help as the wound was still open and hadn’t fully healed.

By the next day, I could see a difference as the rate of drainage slowed dramatically. By day two, that had stopped and the wound began to heal. As I write this, I’m on day seven, and it’s clear the infection is gone and the area is healing nicely. So a simple shot of our high-dose PRP stopped an infection in its tracks without me ever popping a single pill!

What Do We Know About PRP as an Antibiotic?

You might think that since PRP gets used more often to treat bum knees and shoulders, the concept that it could have antibiotic properties is new. You would be wrong. There is quite a bit already published on the subject, and some of those studies used the same superbugs that are killing so many people.

In one recent study, while whole blood and PPP (platelet-poor plasma) had no impact on pathologic bacteria, PRP was able to kill most of the pathogens, and higher doses of platelets killed more. In another recent publication, both PRP and PPP killed awful multidrug-resistant bacteria, with PRP working better than PPP. In another research study, PRP did as well as the big-gun antibiotic vancomycin in killing off MRSA and helping an experimental animal wound heal.

So what’s causing PRP to be able to kill these bacteria? Many had assumed that the white blood cells in red PRP were what was doing the trick since WBCs normally help fight infection. However, recent research has debunked that myth. For example, this recent publication that shows that even without WBCs, PRP can kill bacteria. The authors of this 2015 study found that the cytokines NAP-2, SDF-1 alpha, and IL-6 seemed to be responsible for the effects.

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PRP Would Be Bad for Pharma

While Pharma hasn’t been all that interested in investing big bucks to make a slew of new antibiotics, if they do make one to fight these superbugs, you can bet that they will want huge money for it. These new antibiotics would be hospital and end-stage use only, further increasing the price. If PRP turns out to be effective, it’s going to be far cheaper, which is a problem for these drug companies.

There is a reason most of the recent “PRP as antibiotic” published data comes from outside the U.S. These countries aren’t as pharma focused and don’t have our resources, so they are much more open to trying cheap alternatives to antibiotics. However, this won’t help getting PRP adopted here in the U.S. for antibiotic use.

The upshot? It’s amazing that PRP can help infections. It’s also amazing that given we’re facing a superbug world health crisis, PRP isn’t firmly in the conversation as an antibiotic alternative. Because of the lack of pharma profit from PRP, its wide and easy availability, and its lack of patentability, you can expect that you won’t see it as a common option in most US hospitals anytime soon! That’s a shame because people who have died of these awful infections were never told that PRP might have saved their lives.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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