Bacteria are developing resistance to available antibiotics, and it has been 30 years since the discovery of a truly novel class of antibiotics for common Gram negative and positive pathogen. Scientists and health officials are worried we are losing the battle against drug-resistant bacteria, and they are sounding the alarm on super bugs and drug resistance.
ACS Infectious Diseases explored the topic in 2015 with a Special Issue titled “Gram-Negative Resistance.” Next month, the journal will host a free webinar on the subject with the Special Issue’s Guest Editor, Eric Brown, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences and member of the M.G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University, and Deborah Hung, Co-Director of the Infectious Disease and Microbiome Program at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Associate Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Associate Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The webinar “Superbugs and Drug Resistance: Challenges in New Antibiotic Discovery” will take place Monday, May 15, at 11 a.m. EDT and you can register now.
As a preview, we’re taking a look at the danger posed by superbugs and drug resistance and exploring some new treatments in development.
The Rise of Superbugs and Drug Resistance
Between August 2016 and March 2017, 10 infants in the neonatal intensive care unit at UC Irvine Medical Center in California were diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, the hospital said. Fortunately, all of the babies were treated and survived the infection.
In September 2016, a Nevada woman in her 70’s died from an infection with New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM), a form of the bacterium Klebsiella pneumonia, which was resistant to all 26 antibiotics used in the U.S., reported the Centers for Disease Control in January. The woman had recently returned from an extended trip to India, and her illness became the latest U.S. case of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteria (CRE), which are typically the last resort class of antibiotics. The CDC has tracked about 175 cases of CRE in the U.S.
In the U.K., doctors are raising concerns about carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE), a nearly untreatable infection, reported The Guardian last week. “At least 81 people infected with CPE have died since 2009 at 66 NHS trusts in England,” found Freedom of Information requests made by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, but CPE may have been a complicating factor, not the cause of death, in some cases. In 2015 there were nearly 2,000 cases of CPE in England – up from just three twelve years earlier, according to Public Health England. That might not be all, though, because hospitals are not required to report suspected cases.
In China, studies have found that drug-resistant Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a growing problem in the country’s hospitals. “The drug resistance gene known as mcr-1 — which can move from one bacterium to another — was found in about 1 percent of E. coli bacteria and 1 percent of a bacteria known as Klebsiella pneumoniae, that can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and wound infections,” reported STAT in January. And China also has a serious problem with CREs.
WHO Lists Antibiotic-Resistant “Priority Pathogens”
Those are just a few recent examples of problems caused by drug-resistance around the word. In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) brought additional attention to the global problem when it published its first list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens – 12 families of bacteria that pose a great threat to public health and require new antibiotics for treatment, to guide research and development of new antibiotics.
“Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, upon the release of the list.
The list is separated into three groups, based on the level of need for new antibiotics: critical, urgent, and medium. The critical group is largely made up of bacteria that are resistant to multiple types of treatments and could affect hospitals, nursing homes, and facilities for patients who use certain medical devices. The high and medium urgency groups on the WHO list contain drug-resistant bacteria associated with more common illnesses.
Recent Research on Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria
Researchers are looking everywhere for potential weapons against drug-resistant bacteria. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers are looking to apply CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to develop a probiotic pill that could target any bacteria doctors choose. If successful, the pill could be used to treat superbugs and less-lethal bacterial infections.
Scientists at Canada’s McGill University have found a way to reduce the overuse of antibiotics, which can help superbugs develop. An extract found in maple syrup can increase the effectiveness of antibacterial treatments. In some cases, they were able to reduce the volume of antibiotics by 97% and get the same results.
Komodo dragons are known for carrying deadly bacteria in their bite to kill prey. Researchers have analyzed the animals’ blood and identified 47 cationic antimicrobial peptides believed to have antimicrobial properties. From these, they believe they will find treatments for superbugs.
Learn more about the research on superbugs and antibiotic resistance from the ACS Infectious Diseases webinar“Superbugs and Drug Resistance: Challenges in New Antibiotic Discovery” on May 15. Register today!