Victoria Rees



Victoria Rees is InQuire’s website lifestyle editor, and enjoys reading and writing articles about food, health and fashion.

One of the greatest threats to global health is the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of a post antibiotic era stating that: “It is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, compromising our ability to treat infectious disease, and undermining many advances in health and medicine.” Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer has gone as far to describe it as a “post-antibiotic apocalypse”.

Back in 2014, WHO produced a global report on the surveillance of antimicrobial resistance, focusing on a handful of common pathogens which are known to be commonly causing problems: E. coli, K. pneumonia, S. aureus, N. salmonella, Shigella and N. gonorrhoeae. These pathogens can cause various health issues from mild wound infections, through to meningitis, and all are becoming increasingly difficult to treat. Pathogens are gaining resistance faster than new antibiotics are being developed. Antibiotic resistance in Staphylococcus aureus has led to the rise of MRSA in hospitals. Some estimates suggest that antibiotic resistance could kill 10 million people a year by 2050.

It is a pretty bleak picture, but there is hope on the horizon, thankfully there are forward thinking scientists around the world working on the problem. One of these is Shu Lam, a 25 year old PhD student at the University of Melbourne. The research team headed up by Lam has diverged from trying to produce a new antibiotic, and have instead developed a star-shaped peptide polymer which has been incredibly effective in treating superbugs, which are not treatable by most antibiotics.

Traditional antibiotics tend to work by targeting a single pathway in the pathogen, meaning that the few individual bacteria which are immune to the targeting render the antibiotic useless.The peptide polymer created by Lam’s group can kill gram-negative bacteria via multiple pathways, significantly reducing the chances of pathogens developing resistance to the treatment. Gram-negative bacteria make up five of the seven pathogens focused on in the 2014 WHO study mentioned previously; this development goes a long way to fighting this growing issue.

So far studies have shown that superbugs have developed no signs of resistance against the polymer. Comfortingly, the treatment is non-toxic to the body, a 100-fold increase than current dosage requirements would be needed in order for it to become toxic. This is science, so naturally a lot of patience and more research is needed before we see this as a commonly used treatment in humans, but scientists all over the world are hopeful that this could be a new era in treating antibiotic resistant pathogens.

With World Antibiotic Awareness week coming up on the 13th to 19th of November, it is comforting to know that you don’t need to be a promising scientific researcher to slow antibiotic resistance. On an individual level, it’s as simple as not sharing antibiotics with others, completing your full course of antibiotics, only using antibiotics when they are prescribed, and following the advice of your healthcare professional. More information on World Antibiotic Awareness Week can be found on the WHO website.