Evolution winning in bacteria vs antibiotics arms race

November 19, 2013

Science is running out of new ways to attack harmful bacteria, while drug companies are abandoning antibiotic research and development, according to a University of Adelaide drug expert.

Speaking during Antibiotic Awareness Week (18-24 November), Dr Ian Musgrave from the University's School of Medical Sciences says whenever a new antibiotic is developed, evolve to become resistant within a relatively short period of time.

"There's no doubt that evolution is winning the antibiotics arms race," says Dr Musgrave, a Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology.

"Bacteria are very good at mutating and developing resistance. What's more, bacteria can easily swap DNA, so these resistance mutations can be effectively 'downloaded' from one bacteria to the next. Bacteria can aquire multiple resistance genes this way."

He says science is now falling behind. "We can attack the metabolic pathways bacteria use, we can attack their DNA replication, or we can bust open their cell walls, but each time scientists develop something new, bacteria will evolve so that the same drugs might not be as effective in the following years. It's a vicious cycle, and we can't continue on it," he says.

Dr Musgrave says many are giving up on antibiotics. "Antibiotic research and development is crashing - it doesn't seem to be as profitable any more and there's a lack of new drugs coming onto the market," he says.

The use of multi-drug cocktails, a method employed for HIV patients, could help. This approach attacks bacteria in different ways all at the same time. "However, this kind of treatment is likely to be expensive for the patient and could lead to additional adverse drug events," Dr Musgrave says.

He says one of the best ways to prevent bacteria from developing resistance is for patients to take their full dosage of antibiotics as prescribed by their doctor.

"Many people start taking antibiotics but then they feel better and don't see the point in taking them any more. The point is, they need to kill off all the harmful bacteria. If they don't do this, the can rapidly build up again and become resistant to the drug."

He says GPs should also make sure they're not prescribing antibiotics for uncomplicated viral conditions.

Antibiotic Awareness Week is a global initative to help people learn about and preserve these life-saving medicines.

"Anything we can do to limit the amount of unnecessary anitbiotics in the community will be helpful in preventing resistance," Dr Musgrave says. "For example, the use of in agriculture is a controversial issue, and this can lead to resistant strains of disease that pass from animals to humans."

Related Stories

CDC sounds alarm on antibiotic-resistant bacteria

September 16, 2013

(HealthDay)—More than 2 million people come down with infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year in the United States, leading to at least 23,000 deaths, according to a report released Monday by federal health ...

3Qs: The effect of antibiotic resistant bacteria

October 2, 2013

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report titled Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013, that served as a first-ever snapshot of the effect antibiotic resistant microbes ...

Antibiotics – friend and foe?

November 18, 2013

European Antibiotic Awareness Day is marked on the 18th November every year. This year in Norway, a seminar for health care providers about antibiotic use and resistance will be held, as well as several local events around ...

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.