We may have a breakthrough in fighting “one of the greatest threats to human health”by Philip Ball / March 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
If there is some small comfort to be found amid the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it’s that the severity of the problem is now common knowledge. The public vote that decided the target of the Longitude Prize 2014—a UK competition that channelled £10m towards a “grand challenge”—selected “preventing antibiotic resistance” from a shortlist of six worthy candidates.
No one imagines that this prize will solve the problem, but its specific objective—a point-of-care diagnostic test that would determine whether a patient’s condition warrants antibiotics, and if so, which ones—would be extremely valuable. Indiscriminate use of general-purpose antibacterial drugs is at the root of the rapid spread of pathogenic bacteria resistant to them, such as the notorious MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
But as well as better procedures for identifying infections and prescribing antibiotics, we desperately need new ones if we are to avoid calamitous consequences. In recent years, the supply of new antibiotics that work on resistant strains has almost dried up. Now, however, scientists are finding new ways of prospecting for them in nature, as well as reshuffling the ones we have already in the hope of finding better drugs.