The world of Medicine has many problems lined up at it’s door step, but it is fair to say that two of it’s biggest headaches is that of antibiotic resistance, and the lack of readily available new antibiotic classes to use over the years to come
This is not a new problem, relatively speaking, as antibiotic resistance was identified as early as the 1940’s but The Longitude Prize has recently announced a prize of 10 million pounds in order to tackle the problem concerned
As an Ex Lab Technician who worked in a microbiology department it might be expected that I would rejoice in such an announcement, and in many respects I agree with the committee’s ambitions, yet I have a couple of questions which refuse to leave my mind
- Can we ever win the war on Antibiotic Resistance?
- Should we try and win such a war and?
- To use a metaphor from management and psychological training programs, are we failing to drain the swamp due to fear of the alligators, or in more direct terms are we losing sight of the longer term goals or realities by getting side tracked by more immediate demands.?
Sounds a bit grim doesn’t it but, before I go into the points in more detail, allow me to get one thing clear. I want to see a solution to this problem, but I want it to be true long term solution, and not a temporary fix which will come back to haunt us down the line. Why so, well read the paragraph below
No names though, and no pack drill, just the story of a lady who was eventually sent home to die.
Through my work in the labs, I have seen a wound infection bacteria growing in antibiotic resistance before my very eyes. The patient concerned had a stage four terminal cancer, and deep surgery was performed in order to extend her life. In the end the only antibiotic that was available was gentamicin, and that had to be stopped because of the appalling side affects that the antibiotic caused. Finally she was simply sent home with an open prescription for pain relief morphine, so that she could at least die with some kind of dignity in either a hospice or home.
So onto the questions raised earlier
Can we ever win the war on Antibiotic Resistance
I am neither an expert in such matters, nor a soothsayer such as Nostradamus, but with intense regret I would have to say that, in my opinion, the answer, in the forseeable future is no.
Why so, well we only need to look back at history. Bacteria and viruses have always been with us, will always be with us, and will still be around well after we become extinct or leave the planet
That is a fact, and the more we try and defeat the beggars which trouble us, the more they will evolve, or if some readers don’t like such a word, mutate, in order to bypass our efforts.
An answer to the question of how life began on earth will probably always elude us due to the need for a precursor, but primitive Prokaryotic bacteria were around at the beginning and their ancestors will probably be around up until the earth eventually fries due to our dying sun
If this is the case then with bacterial and viral adaptability to live in almost any kind of atmospheric condition, is it likely that we can ever truly keep them under control?
We say, as a society that we must learn our lessons from history, might this be one lesson that we do not wish to see or learn?
Should we try and win such a war
I have always believed that it is no use winning a battle if you eventually lose the war, and that no battle is worth fighting if it is totally beyond your control. Add to these two points the fact that we simply cannot live, or it would be hard to live without bacteria, and a curious picture soon begins to emerge
It would seem at first chance that we should try and win the war, however futile such an exercise might be, but what if we were to co-exist with bacteria, and even accept that they have a vital, if at times, unpleasant role to play
The positives of living with bacteria can be seen by clicking on the link at the beginning of this section, so I’ll not repeat such data here, but rest assured we need bacteria to keep us alive, or to do son in a fashion that we have come to enjoy.
Every thing has price though, and if we wish to enjoy such positives, then we have to accept the negatives as well.
One of the biggest negatives facing us is the consequences of increasing old age, better health care, and a booming world population, and curiously enough it is bacteria and moulds that can show us the error of our ways
When you grow bacteria or a colony of mould on an agar plate (see image) there is often rapid expansion of growth due to nutrients being absorbed from the surrounding media,
At first everything is fine, but then the centre of the colony dies as all the nutrients are used up and all to often the centre collapses to leave a low centre surrounded by a raised outer rim.
That’s fine, as the colony is still growing at the outer edge, but what happens when all the nutrients are gone. Then the colony dies.
If we were to try and defeat bacteria, or try and end natural predation, then we would become that colony, so, in a obtuse kind of a way, we both need them so that we may live, yet we also need them to keep us under some kind of control.
Are we failing to drain the swamp due to fear of the alligators
When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remember your original mission was to drain the swamp. (Note: You have no idea how often this quip is searched!)
Ok, so this is a old favourite, but it sums up the overall picture created by the first two questions
The message behind this maxim is very simple, and it is based on the concept of having to drain a swamp where in alligators are living. Because you fear the alligators so much you focus ion killing them rather than draining the swamp
This is a futile task as the alligators still thrive, but then some bright, if rather irritating spark points out that in oder to live the alligator needs the swamp, and that if you drain the swamp by controlling the water levels then the alligators will have to leave
That is when the nauseating little beggar is fired for being a smart arse, but he is right, his plan is put into operation and hey presto the job is done
In our desire for new antibiotics, or world cures for all manner of things, are we not also guilty of such misguided thinking, and to sum up on an admittedly sober note, are we really so special that we should not suffer pain, or die
All is not lost though, for even is such microscopic worlds, there is still humour to be found, so please enjoy the video below, and did you know that it was microbiologists that invented the first “ABC do it with XYZ” with the line of
Microbiologists do it with culture and sensitivity
Work it out yourself, or follow this link, and have fun!