I used to be born in India and, as a younger baby, I developed a severe intestine an infection that will have killed me if it hadn’t been for antibiotics.
Today a younger baby in India, with the identical situation, could be way more weak due to the massive and speedy rise in antibiotic resistance in that a part of the world.
The issue will not be, after all, confined to India. It is estimated that antibiotic-resistant infections at the moment kill at the very least 700,000 folks a yr.
That is projected to rise to 10 million by 2050. What is especially worrying is that in addition to the emergence of antibiotic resistance and the risk it poses – there have been no new courses of antibiotics launched prior to now 30 years.
I wished to make a documentary that explores the explanations behind the rise of the superbugs and what progress is being made to search out new methods to counter them.
The producer of the documentary, Peter Gauvain, was eager to reveal me to a few of the extra disagreeable superbugs round after which see if we may deal with them.
Since this was clearly unwise, we compromised by creating life-size fashions of my head and physique out of a nutrient-rich jelly referred to as agar.
We used my physique doubles – whom we dubbed “Microbial Michael” – to experiment on.
The outcomes had been fascinating and somewhat disturbing.
We began by swabbing my actual physique after which wiping these microbes on to my physique double.
The best hand aspect of Microbial Michael had beforehand been saturated with a robust, broad spectrum antibiotic.
How lengthy would the antibiotic maintain the micro organism at bay? Reply: not lengthy in any respect.
Inside days each side of “my” physique had turn out to be a battlefield of competing microbes, a few of them fairly nasty pathogens.
So what about novel therapies?
The encouraging factor is that we did come throughout quite a few completely different approaches to combating the specter of antibiotic resistance that had been promising.
One of many oldest approaches, which within the West is simply now coming again into style, is using viruses to assault micro organism.
Simply as we’re liable to viral infections, such because the frequent chilly, so are micro organism.
The viruses that infect and kill micro organism are often called bacteriophages or phages.
It has been estimated there are greater than 10 million trillion trillion phages round, which is greater than each different organism on Earth, mixed.
Phages had been first found greater than a century in the past and have been used to deal with bacterial infections in quite a few specialised centres in Central and Japanese Europe ever since.
There is a clinic in Poland the place they use phage remedy on sufferers who’ve infections which might be resistant to each recognized antibiotic.
There, we met a girl referred to as Boguslawo, who had developed an an infection in her leg after stepping on a rusty nail, which neither antibiotics nor standard remedy may heal.
Confronted with the selection of making an attempt phages or having her leg amputated, she put her religion within the phages and, to this point, that religion appears to be justified.
Full of potential
Dr Alex Betts, of Oxford College, is one among a handful of scientists within the UK at the moment working with phages, and he kindly agreed to display their effectiveness by infecting my agar double with a superbug referred to as pseudomonas.
This causes septicaemia (an an infection of the blood) and pneumonia, each of which may be deadly. In brief, it is nasty.
He swabbed my agar face with a multi-drug resistant pressure of pseudomonas after which coated a part of it with a small bandage, impregnated with phages.
A while later, once we examined my contaminated face underneath ultraviolet mild, it was clear that the phages had accomplished their work.
All the remainder of the face had been colonised by pseudomonas, other than the small patch the place he had put the phage bandage.
There have been no correct medical trials of phage remedy within the UK but, so they will not be seen exterior of the lab any time quickly.
However I am satisfied that these viruses are full of potential.
As Dr Betts defined, one of many nice benefits of phage remedy is there may be much less danger of micro organism growing resistance.
“Phages have to infect micro organism with a purpose to survive,” he mentioned.
“And if antibiotic resistance evolves, they will co-evolve quickly.
“They are not going to interchange antibiotics, however there are particular roles that they will fill that may ease the stress on our current therapeutics, purchase us time to develop new antimicrobials.
“And phages can definitely be used alongside antibiotics.”
In addition to phages, we additionally tried infecting after which treating my physique double with a novel antibiotic derived from ants, found by Prof Matt Hutchings and his group on the College of East Anglia.
This time we contaminated “my” face with the superbug MRSA (methycyliin resistant staph aureus), which – I am happy to say – the ant antibiotic was capable of battle off.
Prof Hutchings is cautiously enthusiastic about their discovery, as he’s properly conscious that growing new medication is vastly costly and might take quite a lot of time.
And with a possible antibiotic apocalypse approaching quick, time will not be on our aspect.
Michael Mosley vs The Superbugs is on BBC 4 on Wednesday, 17 Might, at 21:00 BST.
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