Apocalypse Now?

Can the disastrous case of antibiotic resistance be stopped?

Bacteria are often viewed as ‘smart’, seeing as they have developed mechanisms to stop antibiotics from working and to build up resistance. And this truly creates a terrifying, almost apocalyptic vision of the future. Gonorrhea, hospital-linked infection, and tuberculosis are all on the comeback and soon, we might not be able to do anything about them. Which is why UT Southwestern Medical Center’s findings published in PLOS Biology are so crucial. The two research teams have found a way to overcome the ‘sneaky’ mechanisms of bacteria.

Normally a bacterium manages to overcome antibiotics using what is called an ‘efflux pump’. This enables the bacteria to remove the antibiotic so that it no longer effects it. The researchers created a synthetic compound that does not actually kill the bacteria itself. Instead, it blocks the efflux pump and stops the bacteria from expelling the antibiotics.

The results have been optimistic. Researchers found that bacteria which previously wouldn’t respond to antibiotics have become more sensitive to it following the treatment. Dr. Greenberg explains that these findings are unique as they offer ‘a different strategy’. Most research has emphasised the need for developing new antibiotics. Yet this traditional approach does not offer a long-term solution, especially as little funding is available for antibiotic development due to the limited profitability for pharmaceutical companies.

Whilst Dr. Trish Perl therefore accurately depicts the findings as having ‘potentially huge implications’, the risk posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria must still be taken seriously. The failure to battle antibiotic resistance means that any infection becomes untreatable. It has been estimated that by 2050 antibiotic resistance could cause 10million deaths a year. Even the UN has realized the urgency of the situation and issued its fourth ever declaration on health issues on the 21st of September. But words are not enough and these research findings, whilst important, are only a minor step in facing a potentially catastrophic outcome.

[Kirsty Campbell]

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