Why We Necessity New Antibiotics More Than Ever

Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 11:51 PM

A year ago, a grouping of scientists led by Dr. Kim Lewis, Director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Middle at Northeastern University, announced a major breakthrough.

Why We Necessity New Antibiotics More Than Ever

By Diana Brazzell, Footnote

This article was produced in partnership with Northeastern Univ and was originally published on Footnote, a website that brings academic research and ideas to a broader audience.

A year ago, a grouping of scientists led by Dr. Kim Lewis, Director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Middle at Northeastern University, announced a major breakthrough. They'd identified a new antibiotic, teixobactin, capable of destroying several kinds of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis and staph (i. e. MRSA).1

Antibiotics are so familiar to us that the discovery of a new one may not seem particularly groundbreaking. Yet in reality, most antibiotics were identified over a half-century ago and new discoveries are quite rare. Teixobactin is actually "the first new antibiotic to be discovered in more than twenty-five years," according to the White House.

After a "golden age" of discovery in the one thousand nine hundred forty, fifty, and sixty, antibiotic development faltered.two.3 The drugs that were easiest to identify and cultivate (the "low-hanging fruit") had already been found, incentives in the scientific community steered research in other directions, and antibiotics weren't seen as profitable by pharmaceutical companies.(a)

MRSA bacteria

Meanwhile, bacteria began to expand resistance to existing antibiotics. The dreaded MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) arose in hospitals and healthcare facilities, while overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming fostered resistant strains of Salmonella and E. coli. According to the CDC, antibiotic-resistant illnesses presently infect two million Americans and murder 23.000 each year.

In this context, the identification of a new antibiotic that can avert resistance is major news. Yet what elicited even more excitement in the scientific community than the discovery itself was how teixobactin was discovered. Researchers found the compound using an innovative reinvention of an elderly technique responsible for many of the antibiotic discoveries of mid-twentieth century: digging in the dirt.

In the early days of antibiotic development, most compounds were found by combing soil samples for microbes that produce their own antibiotic chemicals to hold competing bacteria at bay. This soil mining resulted in a no of powerful antibiotics, such as the tetracyclines used to treat everything from Lyme sickness to acne. However, once the compounds that were easiest to discover and grow in a lab had been identified, the pace of discovery slowed.2

Dr. Lewis and his colleague at Northeastern, Dr. Slava Epstein, reinvigorated soil mining by inventing a device, the iChip, that makes it possible to grow bacteria that couldn't be cultivated through previous techniques. The iChip grows uncultured bacteria in its natural environment, opening up the opportunity for research on the ninety-nine percent of natural bacteria that cannot be cultured in a lab.(b)

Dr. Kim Lewis, Director of the Antimicrobial Discovery Middle at Northeastern Univ (Image credit: Northeastern)

Developing systems love the iChip that enable exploration of large numbers of potentially antibiotic compounds may be the key to fighting antibiotic-resistant diseases. According to Dr. Lewis, the lack of drug candidates is the primary bottleneck in the antibiotic discovery pipeline. Without promising lead compounds, there is nothing for medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies to test and refine for human patients.

To address this bottleneck, we necessity to devote resources to developing platforms that authorize researchers to identify large numbers of potential antibiotics.(c) "Right now," says Dr. Lewis, "people have kind of a lottery approach to the problem. Some grouping accidentally stumbles onto an fascinating compound and tries to expand it. In very scarce cases it'south successful. In most cases, it simply fails."

In lieu of this single compound approach, Dr. Lewis and others have advocated a shift to developing platforms that allow a foundation for antibiotic discovery.2 For instance, researchers love Dr. Helen Zgurskaya at the Univ of OK are trying to define "rules of penetration" to guide the identification of antibiotics that can successfully penetrate the bacterial cell envelope, a major barrier to drug delivery.(d)

While identifying rules of penetration is the type of foundational work that paves the way for necessary discoveries, it's frequently overlooked by scientists and funders. According to Dr. Lewis, however, it's precisely this kind of platform development that'll be fundamental in our fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While efforts to reduce the utilize of antibiotics in agriculture and prevent the development of resistant diseases are important, at the finish of the day we necessity more antibiotics to address the threat head-on.

"We're in a stand-off with human pathogens. And we're poised to lose," Dr. Lewis wrote in a two thousand twelve essay in Nature calling on the scientific community to "recover the lost art of antimicrobial drug discovery."2 If we don't wish to wait another twenty-five years for our following groundbreaking discovery, we necessity to cultivate platforms and technologies love the iChip that'll pave the way for a new generation of antibiotics.

Diana Brazzell is the Co-founder and Executive Editor at Footnote, an online media company that brings academic research and expertise to a broader audience. She collaborates with institutions and scholars to translate their research into accessible, engaging, original content designed for mainstream readers.

This article was produced in partnership with Northeastern University.


  • (a) Inexpensive generic antibiotics are presently abundant and the course of antibiotic treatment is short, making it tough for drug makers to turn a profit. This has led many pharmaceutical companies to avert antibiotic development entirely, instead focusing on drugs for chronic conditions love high cholesterol.3
  • (b) Sidenote: Soil samples are captured between two membranes in the iChip and the device is buried back in the ground so that the bacteria can obtain nutrients from the surrounding soil. Once bacterial colonies start to grow within the iChip, they can be transferred to the lab.
  • (c) The iChip has been used to grow about 50.000 strains of uncultured bacteria, leading to the discovery of twenty-five potential antibiotic compounds, of which teixobactin is the most promising.
  • (d) The Defense Threat Reduction Agency recently funded research led by Dr. Zgurskaya that focuses on identifying rules of penetration as portion of a broader effort to fight antibiotic-resistant diseases.


  1. Ling, Losee L., et al. (two thousand fifteen) "A New Antibiotic Kills Pathogens with Detectible Resistance," Nature, five hundred seventeen: 455-459.
  2. Lewis, Kim (two thousand twelve) "Antibiotics: Recover the lost art of drug discovery," Nature, four hundred eighty-six: 439-440.
  3. Servick, Kelly (two thousand fifteen) "The Drug Push," Science, three hundred forty-eight(six thousand two hundred thirty-seven): 850-853.

What An Acid Ride Does To Your Brain

What An Acid Ride Does To Your Brain

As a result, the best information we've got of how the drug works comes from studies way back in the one thousand nine hundred fifty and one thousand nine hundred sixty. But now, as psychedelic drugs lose some of their research taboo, scientists are...

Science Fairs Are As Flawed As My Solar-Powered Hot Dog Cooker

Science Fairs Are As Flawed As My Solar-Powered Hot Dog Cooker

She'd compare different ways to spotless a toothbrush. First she'd get a new toothbrush out of a package and brush her teeth, covering it with her mouth bacteria.

Kobe Bryant'south Latest Game With L. A. Lakers, Net Worth and Career Highlights

Kobe Bryant'south Latest Game With L. A. Lakers, Net Worth and Career Highlights

One of the most famous and accomplished professional athletes, Kobe Bryant'south net worth of $320 million makes him one of the highest-paid NBA players, according to Celebrity Net Worth, a celebrity finance outlet.

A Collector'south Passion Brings Freedom Documents to the Foreground

A Collector'south Passion Brings Freedom Documents to the Foreground

"We're going down to the middle of the world, to Times Square, and we're going to announce not only the international brand of Collector'south Cafe, but we're going to indicate the world documents that haven't been on display for nearly seven decades,...