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Antibiotic resistance: how we’ll beat it together

Bacteria resistant to drugs are stopping us from treating infectious diseases and undermining medical advances. So what can we do about it? This WHO Antibiotic Awareness Week Dr Jonathan Pearce, Head of Infections and Immunity at the MRC, explains why understanding how resistance develops and spreads is key to tackling antibiotic resistance. And how using this knowledge, we can find creative new ways of preventing and treating infections.

Enterobacteria grown on a selective agar plate.

Antibiotic resistance is now recognised as one of the most serious threats to human health, spreading across national boundaries. It arises from a complex interplay between biomedical, animal, social, cultural and environmental factors. If we are to meet this challenge, we need to take both an international and interdisciplinary approach.

At the MRC, our strategy is to ensure we support the best in-depth bacterial discovery research in the UK, while working with other research funders in the UK and across the globe – building interdisciplinary research programmes to tackle antibiotic resistance.

And we need our research teams to do the same. If we are to stop bacterial disease and treat resistance, the solution must come from the different research disciplines working together; from farming and agriculture, fundamental research to drug development, and human behaviour.

Preventing infection

An important place to start is to prevent infections before they happen. To do this we need to understand how bacteria spread, how we become infected, and how our bodies fight back.

This year’s WHO campaign outlines how everyone has a role to play in limiting the spread of resistant bacteria through good basic hygiene. By detecting and tracking potential outbreaks we can try to stop their spread.

Exciting vaccine research is underway, looking at how we can boost our body’s natural defences. And using antimicrobial coatings on joint implants during surgery is another way researchers are finding to prevent infections in the first place.

Maintaining the balance of microbes in our bodies is another prevention tactic. Researching how different microbes interact with each other may give us clues as to how to stop one species taking over.

Preserving existing antibiotics

The over-prescribing of antibiotics encourages resistance to develop.

Many infections are caused by viruses, which antibiotics can’t fight. So funding research to give doctors the tools they need to distinguish between types of infection will help them select the most effective treatments. Handheld devices and smartphone apps are some of these technologies in development, as well as a futuristic light-up dressing.

Swift action by governments is also needed at the first signs of high-risk bacterial resistance to an antibiotic, such as banning its use in animals to help preserve efficacy in man.

Promoting new treatments

But this is the natural world. Bacteria’s ability to evolve resistance to the drugs we use to attack them is inevitable. So while prevention and preservation will help us slow down the emergence and spread of resistance, we also need to develop new antibiotics.

With in-depth study we will draw out exactly how and why particular species become resistant to certain antibiotics. This can help us develop new drugs able to reverse resistance.

We will also investigate how bacteria infect, persist and damage us, giving us the foundation for developing new, more effective therapies and interventions.

All ideas welcome

The problem of antibiotic resistance isn’t going away. But by combining the strengths of interdisciplinary partnerships and creative deep-dive discovery research, we’re putting ourselves in good stead for the future.

Whether it’s uncovering how bacteria invade cells, finding out how a virus disarms a bacteria, or identifying how a bacteria stays hidden in the body – as long as the research could lead to potential applications to human health, our Infections and Immunity Board is open to ideas. Could yours be one of them?

Together with our UKRI partners we are sponsoring a Science Museum exhibition putting the spotlight on antibiotic resistance, running until Spring 2019.

To find out more about how the MRC is central to antimicrobial resistance research, visit our new AMR spotlight pages.

Jonathan, 6th from left with AMR researchers at the launch of Superbugs: The Fight For Our Lives (left to right): Raechaelle D’Sa, Luke Clifton, Henry Buller, Jess Boname (MRC), Sarah Rhodes, Clare Chandler, Adam Roberts, Brian Robertson

One Comment Post a comment
  1. David Robertson #

    The time is past asking doctors to cease over prescribing .
    We need to insist .
    The public need telling most transient infections are viral and antibiotics are impotent.

    November 15, 2017

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