What Is Combination Drug Therapy?

A microbiologist explains drug cocktails and how researchers find the right matches to improve outcomes
A gloved hand holds a microplate filled with samples.

When you open a carton of Neapolitan ice cream, how do you scoop? Maybe you grab some chocolate and strawberry together, or maybe you eat one flavor at a time. The three flavors are in there to satisfy the variation you need for that serving—not unlike combination drug therapy, says Bree Aldridge, an associate professor of molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine and associate director of the Stuart B. Levy Center for Integrated Management of Antimicrobial Resistance (CIMAR).

Using two or more drugs together as treatment is a simple idea with a complicated underpinning. In order to combine drugs to treat complex infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, and most cancers, we have to understand how their mechanisms work together first. One drug may target one pathway, another drug another pathway. If infected cells grow at different rates, some classes of antibiotics kill the fast-growing cells better, while others are better at killing the slow ones. There can be thousands of combinations to measure. If the right combinations are found, such multidrug therapy may increase treatment efficacy and prevent the development of drug resistance, both important long-term goals.

Aldridge’s multidisciplinary lab combines quantitative measurement with mathematical modeling to understand survival strategies of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, with a goal of shortening treatment time. She also explores how her methods can be applied to other pathogens.

Tufts Now spoke with Aldridge about finding the right drug cocktails, slowing antimicrobial resistance, and the role artificial intelligence can have in both.

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