What have we Learned from Antibiotic Resistance

In 1928, Alexander Fleming accidentally stumbled upon a mold growing in a petri dish.  He noticed that no bacteria grew on the petri dish where the mold was present.  Fleming had discovered the first antibiotic in penicillin.  Since then there have been many types of antibiotics that have helped to treat bacterial infections that at one time would have killed patients.

However, antibiotics have become the catch all cure for every ailment because the general public believes that every cold can be treated with an antibiotic.  Doctors have added to the problem by over-prescribed antibiotics for years to pacify patients that demanded something to make them feel better.  The continued exposure gives bacteria the opportunity to acquire antibiotic resistance over time. This is unfortunate as this has provided a breeding ground for bacteria that survive antibiotic exposure to thrive.  Bacteria have developed antibiotic resistance, which means they are able to withstand exposure to even prolonged exposure.

Hospitals are another place that has provided many opportunities for bacteria to acquire antibiotic resistance.  Hospitals are places where many individuals require routine intravenous antibiotic treatment as a protection against impending infection.  As a result they are harboring the opportunity to allow bacteria to conjugate and obtain an antibiotic resistance gene.  This gene can be passed and copied to allow the bacteria to survive.  These genes also do not need to be inherited. Sometimes they are the result of a random mutation that is beneficial to the bacteria. 

In 1945 the first clinical case of antibiotic resistance became apparent with Staphylococcus aureus.  Since that time, many antibiotics have become less effective due to the number of bacteria that are resistant to them.  There are a few bacteria that have acquired genes to become resistant to more than one type of antibiotic.  Although there are not many of these bacteria, they represent one of the greatest fears of the medical community.  Some new antibiotics have been developed over the years to combat the issue of antibiotic resistance, but some of the very strong antibiotics are so powerful that they can also cause harm to the patients who taken them.  As a whole, there is not a great deal of development in this area of pharmaceuticals which has some doctors concerned that we may someday reach a time where we do not have an antibiotic to combat resistant bacteria.

Alexander Fleming would have been awed at the application of his little mold growing in his dish.  He was in fact not looking to discover a bacterial killing drug.  His simple observation that mold had the ability to destroy bacteria has certainly changed the face of medicine.  However, it is time for new drugs to be developed in the spirit of Fleming that can now tackle the new issue of resistance.