A groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE offers hope that scientists can reverse the development of antibiotic resistance among bacteria with the help of “a mathematical model that pinpoints optimal antibiotic cycling patterns.” On The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg writes, “the research comes at a time of widespread concern that without a coordinated, well-funded response to growing antibiotic resistance, medicine could lose some of its most effective, life-saving tools.” The collaboration between biologists and mathematicians yielded a piece of software dubbed “Time Machine” that “computes which antibiotic goes with which mutation at which point in time to best manage the evolution of resistance.”
The promise of this software comes as the problem of antibiotic resistance becomes ever more urgent. On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski details a WHO report that documents strains of resistant pneumonia, E. coli, staph, tuberculosis, malaria, and flu worldwide. Borkowski also covers the recent outbreak of a “nightmare bacteria” called CRE due to contaminated medical equipment at a Los Angeles hospital. Meanwhile, last year, the CDC issued a warning about the threat of drug-resistant gonorrhea.
On Aetiology, Tara C. Smith provides some historical perspective, noting that the discoverer of penicillin warned about evolving resistance in 1945. Smith considers the possibility of moving beyond traditional antibiotics entirely, instead using viruses to consume bacteria, or using antimicrobial peptides like those produced by our immune systems to mutilate bacterial cell walls. But as Smith writes, “the peptides of our innate immune system are one of our first lines of defense against an immense variety of pathogens, and we don’t know what the outcome may be if we compromise this essential level of protection.”