Antibiotic resistance: people will die when antibiotics fail

Dr Matt Bawn is tackling antibiotic resistance in salmonella, combining big data and computational biology with single cell analysis to understand the rapid evolution going on at the fine scale.

Dr Matt Bawn is tackling antibiotic resistance in salmonella, combining big data and computational biology with single cell analysis to understand the rapid evolution going on at the fine scale; how antibiotic resistance arises in individual bacteria, as well as within large populations.

In the first of our new podcast series, we explore the reasons behind the rise in multi-drug antibiotic resistance, the threat that antibiotic resistance poses to humanity in the very short term, and the methods by which scientists are helping to monitor, diagnose, understand, and fight back against this tremendous global health concern.

Will targeted methods such as ‘phage therapy’ breach the antibiotic void? Will they suffer the same consequences, with bacteria fast developing resistance? Perhaps mining genomes will help us to unearth new therapies? Will we learn not to misuse the last line of defence against conditions such as sepsis, which is now thought to be responsible for 20% of global deaths each year?

The problem, perhaps, has been complacency.

Open quote marks

We have to remember... Fleming discovered Penicillin in 1928, and it wasn’t until the 40s that they [antibiotics] were able to be mass produced and used on a large scale. The first penicillin-resistant bacteria was discovered in 1947.

Closing quote marks

“People become complacent because they hear about the evolution of antimicrobial resistance, and as soon as people hear the word evolution, they think - oh, we’ve got a lot of time, because they think that evolution takes a lot of time to work. But what we’ve already seen from our research on salmonella… is that evolution in bacteria can be incredibly quick.”

As Matt tells us in the podcast: “Unless something drastic happens, very soon, we’re going to enter an era where antibiotics no longer work for routine things, which means that people will die from normal infections, or things at the moment that we’re not considering as very serious.

Sepsis, at the moment, is the largest killer of people in the world, after cardiovascular disease.”

Imagine the scenario in a post-antibiotic world.

Listen to the podcast for the full interview, and you can find out more about Matt’s work in the Hall Group at EI and the Kingsley Group at QI by reading the articles below.

Article author

Peter Bickerton

Scientific Communications & Outreach Manager