28 Nov 2015

End of antibiotics? Next generation drugs to fight infections.

From This Way Up, 1:20 pm on 28 November 2015
E coli

E coli Photo: Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU

Last year the World Health Organisation warned that the world was heading towards a "...post-antibiotic era". 

Meanwhile, a study published in The Lancet last week described the discovery in China of a bug resistant to the polymyxins, the last class of fully effective antibiotics. More worryingly, this resistance can pass between bacteria, raising the prospect that polymyxin-resistant bugs could spread worldwide over the next few years.

So far, so gloomy...but is antibiotic resistance a problem that we can solve? 

Bacteria have been around for billions of years, and in that time they've worked out how to fight off and kill other bugs muscling in on their turf. They do this using a bacteriocin, a toxic protein that can target a specific species of bacteria; think sniper fire as opposed to the hand grenade approach employed today with broad spectrum antibiotics.

Professor Richard James of the University of Nottingham and other teams around the world are hoping that these bacteriocins will help us win the war against infection.