New class of antibiotics discovered

There’s some good news in the fight against ever-evolving bacteria and the resistance they’re building to common antibiotics (the ‘post-antibiotic era‘ we’re entering).  Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have discovered a new class of antibiotics (called oxadiazoles) that is proving effective against MRSA.  Of course, who knows how long it’ll take for MRSA to adapt and develop resistance…but for now, it’s great news.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria killing more people than AIDS

various-tabletsAccording to this article at Treehugger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria (such as MRSA and CRE) are responsible for more deaths each year than AIDS, in the US at least.   It’s a problem that is only expected to get worse in the coming years.  Not helping matters is the large extent to which antibiotics are used in animal agriculture – it’s estimated that around 80% of antibiotic use (in the US) is for that.  The more we use antibiotics, the faster bacteria will evolve to resist them…there’s no escaping that fundamental fact of evolution.

Government officials at the CDC have recently warned against the emerging threat posed by these ‘superbugs’ as well.  It’s not clear there’s any solution in sight though.  We can slow the spread of these by better sanitation and reduced use of antibiotics, but it’ll continue to be a growing problem for future generations to deal with. 🙁

Antibacterial steel

Yesterday I wrote about the dangerous of evolving antibiotic resistant bacteria.  I’m convinced that globally, we won’t be able to decrease the usage of antibiotics enough to prevent the evolution of those bacteria, so instead we need to focus on technologies to fight them.  One cool one is a new metal alloy, that adds silver, nitrogen, and carbon to the surface of a stainless steel alloy.  The result is metal that helps prevent the spread of any bacteria (well, until they become resistant to that…!).  Read more here.

A similar approach uses a special coating (paint-like), applied to any surface, that kills MRSA bacteria.  It uses a special enzyme to directly target MRSA.  The applications are probably pretty limited for now, but it illustrates one way that technology will likely be used in the future to combat this problem.

Superbugs

Antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ are perhaps one of the scariest byproducts of our modern lifestyle and society.  The gist of it is, bacteria, like any living organism, evolves to survive in its environment.  When exposed to antibiotics, some bacteria may have traits or mutations that help them survive longer than others; this can be passed on to future generations if they survive.  Over time and with more exposure to antibiotics, they can grow stronger and stronger.  NDM-1 is a new bug in the wild that appears resistant to ALL antibiotics, MRSA is another (though MRSA can still be treated, to some extent).  Antibiotic use in cattle is believed to be a big cause of the creation of superbugs like these, so it’s a bit of a surprise lately that the FDA announced it will no longer regulate the use of antibiotics in cattle!  This is in spite of studies showing a large percentage of meat samples (~50%) had MRSA.  A letter from a group of medical and health professionals stated,

The evidence is so strong of a link between misuse of antibiotics in food animals and human antibiotic resistance that FDA and Congress should be acting much more boldly and urgently to protect these vital drugs for human illness.

The issue is serious enough that there’s even a lawsuit against the FDA, claiming the agency is not doing enough about this health threat.

If you care about issues like these, go read the full article at the New York Times for yourself.  This issue is not confined to the FDA or cattle, this is about the use of antibiotics globally.  We’d be fools to expect human behavior to change enough to eliminate this problem; rather, we need to recognize the changes we are creating in our environment, and pursue technologies that can help alleviate the problem we’re creating.