A world without antibiotics?

April 7, 2011 By Chantall Van Raay

Imagine a world without antibiotics. Common infections are life threatening. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections and venereal diseases are incurable. Cancer chemotherapies do not exist. The life expectancy for Canadian men is 47 and 50 for women.

" are arguably the most important drugs discovered in the 20th century," says Gerry Wright, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and chair of the Department of Biochemistry. "They not only control infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, they enable many modern clinical procedures including , surgery, and transplantation. Without antibiotics, we return to an era where not only do the young and the old routinely die from infections, but where even healthy individuals are at risk."

The video will load shortly

For World Health Day today (April 7), the (WHO) has put a special focus on antimicrobial resistance and its global spread, particularly the HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics. In addition to introducing a six-point policy package to combat the spread of antimicrobial resistance, WHO is calling on governments and stakeholders to implement the policies and practices needed to prevent and counter the emergence of highly resistant superbugs, and to also provide appropriate care to those seriously affected by these microbes.

The culprit to is evolution, says Wright. "Antibiotics are unique among drugs as their use causes their demise. If you use it, you lose it. Resistance to antibiotics is now a global problem that is having a massive effect on the practice of medicine."

Antimicrobial resistance is not a new problem but one that is becoming more dangerous, he explains. "Antibiotics are chemicals (many produced by bacteria themselves) that block the growth of bacteria. Each bacterial cell on the planet, even those that do not cause disease, is equipped with genes that protect it from the natural chemicals circulating in the environment, often including antibiotics. These organisms have been around for more than four billion years; we've been using antibiotics for less than a century. We're simply no match for the numbers and evolutionary history of bacteria. Antibiotic resistance is natural and unavoidable."

The solution to this inevitability, he says, has been to discover new drugs and chemically modify old ones.

In McMaster's Institute for Infectious Disease Research, 38 clinicians and researchers collaborate to examine antibiotic discovery and resistance. For example, Mark Loeb looks at respiratory infections and antimicrobial use and resistance, research trials on SARS, West Nile and pneumonia; Fiona Smaill performs clinical trials of HIV management, vaccines for tuberculosis and management of infections in pregnancy; and Marek Smieja examines HIV in cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diagnostics for virology, pandemic influenza and tuberculosis pericarditis in sub-Saharan Africa.

"The IIDR has incredible potential in the area of drug discovery, antimicrobial resistance, the chemical biology of pathogens and diagnostics research," says Wright. "With a new Centre for Microbial Chemical Biology, which applies the principles of chemistry to the study of biology, and the scientific tools that allow researchers to sequence bacterial genomes, discover and synthesize new molecules, and screen these by the tens of thousands for antibiotic activity using robotic platforms, we are providing the push for the discovery of new drugs and finding new leads for the next generation of antibiotics."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study suggests ending opioid epidemic will take years

July 20, 2017
The question of how to stem the nation's opioid epidemic now has a major detailed response. A new study chaired by University of Virginia School of Law Professor Richard Bonnie provides extensive recommendations for curbing ...

Team-based model reduces prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent

July 17, 2017
A new, team-based, primary care model is decreasing prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent, according to a new study out of Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine, which ...

Private clinics' peddling of unproven stem cell treatments is unsafe and unethical

July 7, 2017
Stem cell science is an area of medical research that continues to offer great promise. But as this week's paper in Science Translational Medicine highlights, a growing number of clinics around the globe, including in Australia, ...

Popular heartburn drugs linked to higher death risk

July 4, 2017
Popular heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) have been linked to a variety of health problems, including serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia. Now, a new study from Washington University School ...

Most reproductive-age women using opioids also use another substance

June 30, 2017
The majority of reproductive-age and pregnant women who use opioids for non-medical purposes also use at least one other substance, ranging from nicotine or alcohol to cocaine, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate ...

At-risk chronic pain patients taper opioids successfully with psychological tools

June 28, 2017
Psychological support and new coping skills are helping patients at high risk of developing chronic pain and long-term, high-dose opioid use taper their opioids and rebuild their lives with activities that are meaningful ...

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.