New solutions on the horizon to fight infection

It is estimated that superbugs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, will kill 10 million people annually by the year 2050, costing the global economy $100 trillion. Today, in 2018, 2 million people in the United States alone are infected by superbugs each year, 23,000 of them losing their life. We need to do something.  

What is the answer to curing infection and disease without antibiotics? Researchers are tackling that now. Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria causing infection. Bacteria is getting smart. Superbugs exist because they have built up a resistance against the drugs we use to fight off infections. We know that in order for our body to function properly, whether we are discussing the gut or skin, we need healthy bacteria. Disarming harmful bacteria could be the future to an antibiotic free world. Basically, taking their guns away and neutralizing them versus killing them off. By doing taking their ammunition away,

“The bacteria will still be there but the consequences of the infection will not be severe, and then that will give the immune system…a chance to combat the infection,”

stated Francois Franchesi, a program office for therapeutic development in the Bacteriology and Mycology Branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (Quoted in Popular Science April 2018)

How does bacteria infect us? Bacteria damage the cells of their host and spread toxins, continuing to penetrate into other cells of the body. The body’s immune system recognizes the invader and starts to create antibodies against the harmful bacteria. When the body cannot naturally heal itself, we treat the problem with antibiotics. And the cycle begins, only bacteria is getting smart, smarter than our immune system, and if something is not done, this will be an epidemic.

Alternative therapies are needed. Bioengineers at MIT have come up with ways to nullify the toxins, not delete them. The method they are working on, assists red blood cells in soaking up the harmful toxins, thus not allowing them to penetrate other cells and cause damage. Basically, we have to outsmart the bacteria. If we don’t delete it, it can’t come back stronger. Perhaps, if we can subdue it, one day it will just fade off into the sunset. That may be wishful thinking, however the idea is not too far fetched.

Antibiotics are toxic to the body as well. Our immune system is sophisticated, and goes to work attacking anything foreign. Not only will bacteria resist drugs, our immune system will as well.

There are many ways bacteria resist antibiotics, along with many ways we are increasing our risk for infection. Daily cleansers, including many of the go-to hand sanitizer moms have in their purses, can wipe away all good and bad bacteria, disrupting our natural microbiome. While we think we are being health conscious, we could actually be exposing ourselves to more infection. Killing the good bacteria that helps us fight is making the bad stronger, and more often that not, drugs are now, not helping us get better.

It is a vicious cycle. The work researchers are doing, is proving to be effective, however it will take years for it to become mainstream. Approval for products and techniques take time, and bacteria will keep evolving. Liangfang Zhang, a nanoengineer at the University of California, San Diego express an interview with Popular Science,

“Messing up our microbiome is bad for us in a lot of different ways, and I think the only solution for that is really to get to targeted therapy.”

With the majority of the population buying in to the discussion of a healthy gut microbiome, over the next five years, there will be adaptation of a greater focus on the skin microbiome. It is after all the largest organ of the body and our body’s first line of defense.

It is not time to say goodbye antibiotics yet. While they may always exist as a tool in the closet, as researchers, scientists, and doctors work towards better health, they may end up with a death date sometime in the distant future.