Walsh & Fischbach (2009) - New Ways to Squash Superbugs (Sci Am)

Walsh & Fischbach (2009) - New Ways to Squash Superbugs (Sci Am)

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44 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN July 2009 KEY CONCEPTS Dangerous bacteria are developing resistance to existing antibiotics faster than humans can invent or discover new drugs. Searching exotic environ- ments and microbial genomes are among the innovative strategies being applied to the problem. New approaches that narrowly target single organisms or stop short of killing them may help break the vicious cycle of resistance. The Editors MEDICINE Scientists are using new tools and tactics in the race to discover novel antibiotics By Christopher T. Walsh and Michael A. Fischbach New Ways to Squash Superbugs “S uperbug Strikes in City” sounds like a horror movie title, but instead it is a headline printed in the October 26, 2007, edition of the New York Post. Twelve days earlier a 12-year-old Brooklyn boy, Omar Rive- ra, died after a wound he received on the basket- ball court became infected with methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bac- terium that has become resistant to one of the most potent drug classes in the current antibiot- ic arsenal. The prospect of healthy people contracting an untreatable bacterial infection may have seemed remote a decade ago, but it has now be- come a reality. In 2007 a research team led by Monina Klevens at the Centers for Disease Con- trol and Prevention reported that MRSA causes 19,000 deaths every year in the U.S., which is more than HIV/AIDS causes. The number is es- pecially alarming because almost 20 percent of people who contract MRSA die from it, and an increasing number of its victims are young, healthy people who were infected going about everyday activities. The problem was once lim- ited to hospitals or nursing homes, where many people were already vulnerable because of im- paired immunity. Even for those who survive, the price of MRSA is high: a patient who con- tracts it while hospitalized stays an average 10 days longer and costs an additional $30,000. The total annual expenditure on treating MRSA infections in U.S. hospitals is an astound- ing $3 billion to $4 billion, and staph is just one of the pathogens that are becoming more and more difficult to subdue. Modern medicine is losing the war against disease-causing bacteria that were once considered vanquished, and new approaches to discovering and creating antibiot- ics are needed to turn the tide. Recurring Resistance The story of MRSA illustrates how quickly drug resistance can arise. Indeed, the natural mecha- nisms that cause resistance in staph and other bacteria make the problem almost inevitable, creating a constant need for new antibiotics. © 2009 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC.
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www.ScientificAmerican.com SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN 45 PETER AND MARIA HOEY Methicillin, a derivative of the better-known penicillin, was introduced in 1959 to treat in- fections caused by strains of bacterial species such as S. aureus and Streptococcus pneumo- niae that had become resistant to penicillin.
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