McMaster antibiotic resistance research What you need to know about the issue and what is being done

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By: Abdullah El-Sayes

Antibiotic resistance has been an issue for decades. Infections that were once easy to cure are no longer treatable as microbes have become resistant to the drugs that kill them. This leads to detrimental effects. It has been 30 years since the last antibiotic drug has been released. The World Health Organization accentuates that impact this may have on humanity and has released a list of pathogenic superbugs in an effort to increase antibiotic research and development through government and the private sector investments.

How did this start in the first place? 

When antibiotics are prescribed to patients, they are expected to comply with the usage instructions and continue taking the drugs even if the symptoms have vanished to ensure all the pathogenic microbes are eliminated from the body. When this procedure is not abided, pathogens remain and drug-resistant bacteria may be formed via mutations and increase the population of resistant microbes. WHO claims that in countries without standard treatment, antibiotics are over-prescribed and overused by the public. This only adds to the problem. Antibiotics used for cattle within farms further contribute to the misuse of these drugs, and elevate the chance of microbes becoming drug-resistant.

What are the consequences we face? 

A growing list of infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and gonorrhoea are becoming harder to treat as they become more resistant to antibiotics. Some infections are now untreatable. An infamous example of this would be the TB pandemic. During mid-late twentieth-century, TB was once treatable using antibiotics, but infections resurged during the 1980s and thereafter due to drug resistant strains making them harder to treat. This case draws attention to the importance of antibiotic research and development. As more microbes become resistant, more antibiotics will be required to subside the associated infections.

What can we do to prevent further harm?

WHO claims that behavioural changes are important to reduce antibiotic resistance. These actions include being careful with vaccinations and sharing needles, always washing our hands, practising safer sex, and good food hygiene. Nonetheless, these measures are not adequate to eliminate neither these microbes nor their harm among us. Dr. Eric Brown and his team based at McMaster University have conducted promising work towards resolving this crisis.

What research is being done now, and what has been discovered? 

This research team has tested 1440 drugs with expired patents against some of the most deleterious bacteria. The specific microbes were gram-negative bacteria, which have a rigid protective outer shell. Due to this, few antibiotics are able to defeat this specific bacteria type. However, pentamidine, a drug used to fight parasites in the 1930s, was found to form holes in the rigid outer shell of the bacteria. Additional antibiotics may then be supplemented to reach beyond the holes of the shell and finally devastate the bacteria and the infections associated with them. The experiments were conducted in dishes and mice. The results have been great, but still have a long way to go.

When asked about what the next steps are, Dr. Brown stated, “A trial in humans. … After all, pentamidine is already a drug that could be combined with other antibiotics in order to gather evidence in the clinic that this will work in humans.” He also added, “Pentamidine does have well known side effects, but these are manageable.”

Although this research is a relief to us, we cannot become too content, as resistant bacteria strains are not shy of showing up and causing damage.

“No one, including the public, should feel comfortable with the state of the art in antibiotic therapies. … The problem of drug-resistant bacteria is large and becoming worse every day,” said Dr. Brown.

Overall, antibiotic resistance is a serious tribulation we face, but research at McMaster University has taken a leap forward at resolving this issue. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for greater investment towards antibiotic research and development, so that we no longer have to stress about this pressing issue.

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