WELLNESS--It is common knowledge among health experts that there is considered to be a pre-antibiotic era and an antibiotic era, but it wasn’t until recently that the possibility of a post-antibiotic era has been deliberated. In 2011 the World Health Organization released a statement stating, “The world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and will once again kill unabated.” This was when the rumblings of a possible health crisis started to become louder.
It’s not that antibiotic resistance is a new thing exactly. Before penicillin we had sulfonamides, which are powerful antimicrobials. Not long after their introduction the resistance began and the search for newer and more powerful antibiotics began. After that came penicillin and many other antibiotics but always with resistant strains of bacteria following closely on there heals.
Six years later in 2017 things are not looking any better. The CDC estimates about 24000 people died last year from antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria in the United States alone costing the US upwards of 4 billion dollars. One major advancement is in our understanding of these bugs. In a recent study published in Microbiome, scientists discovered 76 genes that had never been found before. These genes play an important role in helping bacteria become antibiotic resistant.
Up until now the only solution to fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria was by inventing new drugs, but this cycle of new drug development followed by new antibiotic resistant bugs is proving less and less effective. It is possible that this system needs to be considered ineffective and an entire new way of dealing with these superbugs sought out. Gene therapy seems a possibility. Gene therapy is a new and at times controversial technique that may allow future scientists to treat disorders by inserting genes directly into cells. Instead of creating new drugs to fight the bacteria, gene therapy would basically render the bacteria useless.
Another technique already being used in Poland is called Phage therapy, which is the use of bacteriophages to treat and kill bacteria. We already have phages in our bodies so the use of this treatment does not harm the host nor does it kill off the friendly bacteria in our guts the way antibiotics do. There are already studies and treatments being performed at The Institute of Immunology in Poland. The same way our body produces macrophages or fighter cells, this institute is introducing new phages into the body, which are proving to be effective in over 80% of cases of different types of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. This type of procedure is not available in the United States and needs to be paid for out of pocket for anyone interested in the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Hopefully this type of treatment will become more common in the US and the rate at which these so called superbugs develop will slow down reducing the chances of an all out health crisis.