Drug resistance is “up there with climate change” as a global threat

The threat posed by drug resistant infections should be taken as seriously as climate change, says an Imperial expert.

Ramesh Wigneshweraraj, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Head of Section of Molecular Microbiology in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, argues that the global rise of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics presents an enormous problem in modern medicine. It is a huge concern to global health agencies, as growing numbers of infections – such as tuberculosis, sepsis or those that cause infections in healthcare settings – are becoming harder to treat.

This will have devastating socio-economic consequences, said Professor Wigneshweraraj: “Reports have shown that failure to tackle drug-resistant infections will lead to an additional 10 million deaths by 2050, which is an enormous problem for modern medicine. Equally, this will have devastating socio-economic impact on many around the world. It is also projected that failure to tackle this health issue will cost $100 trillion dollars and drive millions around the world into extreme poverty. The threat to the global population is up there with climate change.”

Professor Wigneshweraraj made his comments at an Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) seminar earlier this month at Hammersmith Hospital, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Professor Wigneshweraraj was joined by Professor Alison Holmes, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London and Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, who presented her work on leading a newly created Imperial centre to tackle drug-resistant infections.

Access to effective antimicrobial drugs (like antibiotics or antifungals) is critical in treating patients with bacterial, fungal and viral infections.

Overuse of antimicrobials or using them for the wrong reason is fuelling antimicrobial resistance (AMR), leading to an increase in drug-resistant infections. AMR occurs when the microorganisms that cause infections such as bacteria and fungi develop resistance to treatments like antibiotics.

At the seminar, Professor Wigneshweraraj presented his work to tackle drug-resistant infections by using bacterial viruses to help combat bacteria resistance to antibiotics.

Professor Wigneshweraraj explained that phages –viruses that infect bacteria– can take hold of a bacteria’s essential cellular machineries and inhibit them. This new insight can be used to develop next-generation antibiotics or synthetic viruses, capable of combatting many different kinds of drug-resistant bacterial infections.

Professor Wigneshweraraj and his team are now working with engineers at the College to develop ‘vehicles’ to deliver antibacterial proteins into bacterial cells more effectively tackle drug-resistant infections.

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