Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling one of the biggest problems facing contemporary medicine

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The Next Generation of Antibiotics with Professor Anastasia Callaghan

  • 25 November 2020
  • 2 min read

Life Solved the podcast explores world-changing research developments.

Professor Anastasia Callaghan and her team in the School of Biological Sciences are tackling one of the biggest problems facing contemporary medicine: antimicrobial resistance.

Without antibiotics today, minor infections could lead to serious ill-health, and surgeries and chemotherapies would bring enormous risks our lives.

The growing threat to modern medicine

With the common usage of antibiotics to treat and prevent infection around the world today, it’s essential to stay one step ahead of bacteria as they multiply and mutate to survive. But ineffective use of antibiotics, such as incomplete courses, is exacerbating the problem by allowing surviving bacteria to thrive and multiply.

In some cases, even old diseases such as cholera are resurging, with outbreaks due to poor sanitation following natural disasters. A very real threat exists for human life unless solutions to antibiotic resistance can be found.

Professor Callaghan thinks one answer could be to explore and disrupt the bacteria themselves.

There are mechanisms by which bacteria are changing, becoming resistant to the antibiotics we have, and so still causing infections. It's about finding different strategies and new ways we can disarm them.

Professor Anastasia Callaghan, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics

Detailed disruption

Professor Callaghan's approach is to look at a molecular level at the natural processes of a bacterium's life cycle and find a way to block them. But the breadth and diversity of different types of bacteria is an obvious problem: there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution.

She says that our modern understanding of microbial molecular biology can be used to manipulate and interrupt the bacterial life-cycle of future diseases.

But how to ensure that 'bad' bacteria gets neutralised by therapies, whilst keeping the good? The team are looking at the DNA of bacteria in the hope that they can prevent the synthesis of new proteins, effectively halting the multiplication process, almost like an off-switch for future generations of specific bacteria.

An off-switch for pandemics?

I think as you get into it and start to understand mechanisms of control at the molecular level you can see broader applications.

Professor Anastasia Callaghan, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics

Professor Callaghan thinks that the approach to neutralising the ability of certain bacteria to replicate could also be useful in the future of national defence, or in situations of a bacterial outbreak due to natural disasters associated with damaged sanitation.

Where bacterial epidemics or pandemics occur, preventing the spread by halting growth and transmission could be life-saving in an ever more connected world.

Listen to the Life Solved podcast

You can hear the full interview with Anastasia in The Life Solved podcast from Tuesday 24 November. Search for 'Life Solved' on any app or online to listen.

The episode is also available to stream on our website.