Edge of the Cliff: A New Way Bacteria Becomes Resistant

By Josh Bloom — Nov 19, 2015
The battle of medicine vs. bacteria has been going quite poorly for more than two decades, primarily due to antibiotic resistance. The last thing we need is giving these bugs another edge. But in China, a newly-discovered gene can spread to many types of bacteria, and render useless some antibiotics that are our last line of defense against unresponsive infections.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 4.38.46 PMIn terms of resistance, there's been no shortage of stories about how close to the edge of the cliff we're getting, at which point antibiotics will stop working entirely and we'll be heading back to the period in the early 20th century where people died from infections that we easily treat today.

Although there are some well-known resistant strains of bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are commonly cited examples it is not yet doomsday, despite the fact that tens of thousands of Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections.

Back in 2012, my op-ed in The New York Post, entitled "The Coming Gonorrhea Epidemic" cited how we were down to one drug that still worked against a common sexually transmitted disease which was formerly easy to cure.

It hasn't gotten any better in the ensuing years. Only four new antibiotics have been brought to market, which is in sharp contrast to what was happening between two and three decades ago. At best, we are treading water.

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This is why it was especially disturbing to infectious disease researchers that a new type of resistance just turned up in pigs and humans China. The discovery is not simply another bacterial strain that has become resistant to another antibiotic. Rather, it is a new gene called mcr-1, which can be readily passed between multiple types of bacteria, and enables the bugs to become resistant to a class of antibiotics called polymixins the last line of defense against infections that won't respond to anything else, such as the deadly CRE.

All of this serves to further highlight what Dr. David Shlaes, an advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, has been writing about for years that we are falling dangerously behind in the race with the bugs, and that at some point this will catch up to us in a very bad way.

This discovery gives the term "made in China" an entirely different meaning.

Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

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