THE WAR AGAINST ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT BACTERIA
2 months ago Mihir Kulkarni 0
In an interview shortly after winning the Nobel Prize in 1945 for discovering penicillin, Dr. Alexander Fleming said:
“The thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man who succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism.”
Today we not only have penicillin resistant bacteria but a wide range of antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacteria threaten the practice of medicine as we know it.
Recently the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released a disturbing report regarding the death of an elderly woman in Woshoe County, Nev. The cause of her death wasn’t heart disease or cancer or pneumonia. What killed her were bacteria that were resistant to every antibiotic that doctors could throw at them.
This anonymous woman is just the latest victim in a war against antibiotic resistant bacteria – a war that we are losing. This continuous fight between human and bacteria is persistent and ever-evolving. It has global implications, not only in terms of public health but also in terms of economic burden due to the ineffectiveness of antibiotics against common infections. Not only are pharmaceutical companies struggling to find new molecules as possible antibiotics, bacteria are rapidly becoming resistant within a few years of development of the molecule. Hence, as a result of this many of the very common illnesses like common cold could become life threatening and many invasive procedures like organ transplant would become very risky.
HOW DO SUCH ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT BACTERIA OR ‘SUPERBUGS’ FORM?
We all know the concept of ‘Survival of the fittest.’ Over the course of time, the genes of some bacteria get mutated to become tough and resistant to antibiotics. Although most bacteria die when they encounter an antibiotic, these mutated ones survive. Through repeated exposure, these tough bacteria proliferate, spreading resistance genes through the bacterial population. That’s the curse of antibiotics: if used carelessly we produce a population of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
WHAT IS BEING DONE TO PREVENT ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Some clinical isolates of clinical isolates of many pathogenic bacterial species — Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and species of enterobacter, salmonella, and shigella — are now resistant to most antibiotics.
In order to tackle this problem, many different approaches are being tried. Some scientists like Dr. Christophe Wiart, an ethnopharmacologist, is searching the tropical rainforests of Malaysia for natural chemicals that plants use that if properly developed could turn into viable antibiotics. He believes that the tropical rainforests of Asia are mankind’s last hope.
Others like Dr. Brian Bachmann are searching in caves for possible advancements in developing new antibiotics. According to him, the caves provide the ideal environment for bacteria to colonize and since the atmosphere is competitive, there is a good chance that we might find the bacteria we need to develop an effective antibiotic.
But both these methods have one problem. Isolating an individual chemical for its possible medical viability will take a lot of time and time is a resource which we don’t have. Also, if these natural habitats do actually hold the potential of saving millions of lives we are not doing a very great job protecting them.
So, as the discovery of antibiotics transformed the field of medicine in a good way; the loss of effective antibiotics would transform medicine in a horrible way.