A lot is happening in basic research when it comes to antibiotic resistance. Scientists are getting better and better at understanding the mechanisms underlying the distribution of resistance. They are constantly improving methods of developing new antibiotics. Who are the experts to approach to get further information? Where is information to be found? Which studies are important? We provide an overview.
Robert Bud: “Penicillin: Triumph and Tragedy”
A historical overview of the history of antibiotics and the emergence of resistance focused on Britain.
Scott H. Podolsky: “The Antibiotic Era”
History of the development and marketing of antibiotics and resistance against them focused on the USA.
Hugh Pennington: “Have Bacteria Won?”
A realistic and easily readable analysis of the current situation fighting infectious diseases.
Herman Goossens, Microbiology
Lab of Medical Microbiology
Campus Drie Eiken
Tel. +32 3 265 2751
Herman Goossens is professor of microbiology at the University of Antwerpen. He is also chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance. He started the annual European Antibiotic Awareness Day. With his research he wants to help improve the standard of healthcare quality, public health and professional standards.
Achim Hörauf, Microbiology and Parasitology
Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie, Immunologie und Parasitologie
Universitätsklinikum Bonn (AöR)
Sigmund - Freud - Straße 25
Telefon: +49 (0)228 287 15675
Achim Hörauf is head of the Institute for Medical Microbiology, Immunology, and Parasitology at the university medical centre of Bonn. Hörauf has specialised in parasitology. He is especially concerned with helminthology, a field that is focused on parasitic worms. In 1999 he received the first prize of the German Society for Tropical Medicine. Recently, Hörauf and his team developed a therapy for filarial infections, based on antibiotics.
Georg Peters, Microbiology
Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie
Telefon: +49 0251 83-55360
Georg Peters is head of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at the University of Münster. He is also the chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). For many years he’s been looking at the behaviour of staphylococcus aureus and its resistant variant, MRSA. Since 2008 he has been a speaker of the Study Section: Microbiology, Virology and Immunology of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). In his current research he is examining the reasons for staphylococcus aureus‘ ability to cause persistent infections.
Lothar Wieler, Infection Research
Institut für Mikrobiologie und Tierseuchen
Freie Universität Berlin
Telefon: +49 30 838 51840
Lothar Wieler has been head of the Robert-Koch-Institut since 2015. He’s been an expert in the field of microbiology since 2007. He is also a professor at Freie Universität Berlin, where he managed the institute for microbiology and animal diseases before he became head of the RKI. In his research, Wieler focuses on zoonoses – germs that are transferred from animals to humans. These germs include the MERS-Coronavirus, the SARS virus, the Ebola virus and the hospital germ MRSA. He is particularly interested in mechanisms that help germs like E.coli to infect humans and animals alike.
Jordi Vila Estape, Microbiology
ISGlobal - Campus Clínic
Rosselló, 132, 7th floor
Telefon: +34 93 227 1806
Jordi Vila Estape is head of the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Full Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Barcelona. He is also director of the Antibiotic Resistance Initiative at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. Estape focuses on the molecular basis of antimicrobial resistance. He also works on the discovery of new drugs against bacteria. His current research focuses on a new derivative of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin.
MRSA prevalence (ratio of Staphylococcus aureaus bacteria resistent to methicillin). Learn more
Anders Nilsson, Microbiology
Department of Molecular Biosciences
106 91 Stockholm
Anders Nilsson is an Associated Professor in Genetics at Stockholm University. He has been head of a research group that is concerned with bacteriophages since 2007. Bacteriophages are viruses that use bacteria as host cells. He is interested in the genetics of these bacteriophages, and he is also looking for new forms of bacteriophages. Nilsson also investigates the use of bacteriophages against bacterial infections.
George Drusano, Microbiology
University of Florida
UF Research and Academic Center at Lake Nona
6550 Sanger Road
Orlando, FL 32827
Telefon (allgemein): +1 407-313-7068
George Drusano is President of the International Society for Anti-Infective Pharmacology (ISAP) and Co-Director of the Ordway Research Institute. He also carries out research in the field of infectious diseases at the University of Florida. Drusano was awarded the Rhone Poulenc Award for his outstanding scientific work about fluoroquinolones, an important antibiotic in human medicine. Drusano described the behaviour of pathogens in a way no one had done previously. In the words of Dr. John S. Bradley’s, University of California: he is able to see antimicrobials the way pathogens see them.
Slava Epstein, Microbiology
College of Science
360 Huntington Ave
Telefon (direkt): + 1 617.373.4048
Slava Epstein is a biology professor at Northeastern University in Boston. He is a pioneer in the field of microbiology and was appointed Global Thinker 2015 by the magazine Foreign Policy. Epstein is always keen to discover new microbiological species and never gets tired of looking for them. He is interested in the ways in which microbiological cells react to destructive changes in their environment and the interactions between and within populations. He is also keen to learn about the field of applied microbiology in order to provide new solutions in the struggle against germs like MRSA. He is convinced that newly discovered species have the potential to make a genuine difference in the fight against hospital germs.
Roy Kishony, Microbiology
Harvard Medical School
Department of Systems Biology
200 Longwood Avenue
Warren Alpert Building
Boston, MA 02115
Telefon: +1 617-432-6390
Roy Kishony is a Visiting Professor at the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School. He is also the Marilyn and Henry Taub Professor of Life Sciences at the Departments of Biology and Computer Science at Technion Israel Institute of Technology. His research focuses on systems of architecture in genetic networks. He wants to understand the interplay between the design of genetic networks and the evolutionary process. For example, he investigates the interdependence of environmental stresses and mutations in E.coli.
Olaf Schneewind, Microbiology
Department of Microbiology
University of Chicago
Cummings Life Science Center
920 East 58th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637
Telefon: +1 773-834-0676
Olaf Schneewind is chairman of the department of microbiology at the University of Chicago. He also edits the Journal of Bacteriology and the Annual Review of Microbiology. His research programme is concerned with pathogenic bacteria and their strategies in attacking the human body and causing diseases. For Schneewind, Staphylococcus aureus is of particular interest. In this field, he has published more than 250 peer reviewed publications. Furthermore, he has lent his knowledge to several well-known pharmaceutical companies.
Tricking the Immune System to Fight Germs
Anyone who swallows antibiotics changes their intestinal flora. This can lead to easier movement of germs in the bowels. One example is enterococcus bacteria which infect the blood through the bowel if they occur in high concentrations. Especially for patients who are already vulnerable, they can become particularly dangerous as they can trigger blood poisoning.
There are strains of enterococcus called VREs which are resistant against the antibiotic Vancomycin. VREs are dreaded germs in hospitals. If they infect a patient who has just had an organ transplant it can be life threatening.
Scientists led by Michael Abt from New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have now tried out a different strategy: They infected mice with the dangerous hospital germ VRE. At the same time they infected the mice with noroviruse. These are especially a problem in schools, kindergartens and retirement homes as they are easily transferred. They cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting.
However, the double infection has a totally different effect: the mice recovered faster. The noro virus helped to contain the infection. The reason: The immune system was additionally activated with the help of the virus.
A similar effect occurred when the scientists gave them Resiquimod which is an experimental drug against herpes. It pretends that a virus has entered the body. The immune system is activated and reacts.
Michael Abt et al. TLR-7 activation enhances IL-22–mediated colonization resistance against vancomycin-resistant enterococcus. Science Translational Medicine. 24 Feb 2016: Vol. 8, Issue 327, pp. 327ra25
Many antibiotics have been isolated from bacteria that live in the soil. These bacteria have learned through evolution to use antibiotics to poison other microbes. The substances normally don’t harm humans, which is why they can be used as medicine.
Over time, this source – the soil that provided antibiotics – seemed to run dry. The question was, have we already discovered all the organisms that can act as producers of antibiotics? No, say scientists led by Losee Ling from NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Normally, newly discovered bacteria are grown on petri dishes in the lab, but what if a large portion of microorganisms do not grow there?
Based on this idea, the scientists collected samples of bacteria from the soil, put them in containers and then placed them back into the earth. This let the microbes grow in their natural environment. In one of the containers, scientists identified a new substance: teixobactin, an antibiotic to which there is no known resistance yet. It is quite possibly the first of a whole array of substances to come from organisms that cannot be cultured in the lab.
Scientists find an antibiotic in the human nose that will work against MRSA
A new antibiotic was right under their noses — or rather, in them. Scientists led by Andreas Peschel at the University of Tübingen have discovered a molecule called lugdunin, produced by the bacterium Staphylococcus lugdunensis which lives in the human nose. Lugdunin has been shown to kill the potentially deadly infection MRSA in mice and rats.
MRSA is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that’s resistant to many antibiotics. It usually lives in peoples noses, but in a small number of cases it escapes to the bloodstream where it causes an infection.
Not only is the place where the scientists found the substance unique – up until now, antibiotics have only been found in soil bacteria – but also the structure of the new substance: It is a completely new chemical class of antibiotics. There is no known resistance against it. Lugdunin kills all MRSA strains (in mice and rats) without any problems.
Zipperer, A. et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature18634 (2016)
Sometimes resistances can develop very rapidly – and disappear as rapidly as they have developed
Scientists led by Jakob Haaber of Stanford University have discovered a temporary resistance mechanism. Normally, resistance arises when genes mutate. These changes are long lasting, hereditary and are discovered though genetic analysis in the lab.
Haaber’s team discovered something else. They found that when Staphylococcus aureus, a germ commonly seen in wounds, is treated with colistin, it also develops resistance to the antibiotic vancomycin. Yet this resistance does not last. It disappears when colistin is withdrawn. The scientists concluded that this mechanism can interfere with antibiotic treatment – under the radar of conventional clinical analysis.
Resistant bugs can be picked up travelling – but in most cases they disappear rapidly
Travellers to exotic destinations often unknowingly bring resistant germs home with them in their gut. Scientists from the Etienne Ruppé of the Diderot University in Paris researched the phenomenon. They analysed the stool of over 800 travellers and published their results in August 2015. The results: one out of two tourists were carrying resistant germs. For travellers who visited Asia the rate was as high as 70 per cent. The good news was that the germs did not last long in the guts of the returning travellers – even without antibiotic treatment. After three months, 95 per cent were free of resistant germs.
Urinary tract pathogens are widely spread
Little is known about resistance outside of hospitals. That is why researchers led by Dean Ironmonger of the Field Epidemiology Service in Birmingham analysed more than five million urinary tract infection samples. Over five years, they discovered a rise in resistance to the antibiotic cephalosporin. Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae were two of the germs affected. This is the first systematic analysis of antibiotic resistance in the English community. And it is troubling.
Mold can become resistant
Scientists led by Oliver Bader of the University of Göttingen in Germany have discovered resistance in a fungus taken from soil samples. The fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, can infect immunodeficient patients. Normally treated with azole, resistance to the substance has spread in recent years. It is unknown how common resistance to the anti fungal is, but the scientists provided an estimate in their study: One in every ten fungi they isolated from the soil was resistant.
A new antibiotic called griselimycin
Good news: Scientists led by Angela Kling of the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research in Saarbrücken, Germany, have developed a synthetic antibiotic called griselimycin. The substance could possibly treat tuberculosis. It has been effective in lab experiments involving mice, but has yet to be developed for treating humans.
The background: Normally, the antibiotic streptomycin is used to fight Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the germ which causes the disease. But certain strains have developed resistance. Streptomycin was first discovered in a fungus. This fungus, Streptomyces, also naturally produces griselomycin. However, natural griselimycin is not suitable as a drug because it decomposes too quickly. But with the new synthetic modifications, it may have a future career in medicine.