Research Matters

Research Matters

Man Versus Microbe

A University Distinguished Professor at KU warns that drug companies must develop "triple threat" antibiotics if humankind is to keep the upper hand in the contest with microorganisms.

Aired April 28, 2008

2 minutes (2.8 MB) | Download mp3


Humankind someday may lose the upper hand in its war with bacteria. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I'm Brendan Lynch.

It's not an ideal topic for polite conversation, but the average adult plays host for trillions of microorganisms. Many of these bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Lester Mitscher, University Distinguished Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at KU, says new, potent antibiotics are badly needed.

Lester Mitscher: Antibiotics are essentially selective poisons that kill bacteria and that do not kill us. Bacteria that survive the initial onslaught of antibiotics then are increasingly resistant to them. The sensitive proportion of the bacterial population dies, but then the survivors multiply quickly - and they are less sensitive to antibiotics.

While penicillin and its cousins were hailed as miracle drugs, Mitscher says we have been too casual in their use, leading to highly resistant "super bugs."

Lester Mitscher: Half of all the antibiotics produced in the world are used in animal husbandry. The difficulty is that use of antibiotics in that setting is an invitation towards resistance. Unfortunately, humans get infected with resistant strains that were generated in animals in this manner.

Mitscher says drug firms must create antibiotics that kill microbes, inhibit their ability to mutate and also enlist the body's own immune system. BUT such "triple treat" drugs might be a long time coming.

Lester Mitscher: The pace of antibiotic discovery has fallen off in recent years, partly because the intensive research on these things has lead to increasingly diminishing returns. Pharmaceutical firms have, for a variety of commercial reasons, de-emphasized antibiotic research - as a consequence, the pace of discovery has fallen down.

For more on microbial resistance, log onto Research Matters dot KU dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

Tell Me More

KU distinguished professor urges drug firms to create new generation of antibiotics

LAWRENCE - It may not be an ideal topic for polite conversation, but human beings are swarming with bacteria: Even the average healthy adult plays host to about 100 trillion microscopic organisms. Infection takes place when the bacteria get out of hand.

Now, a University of Kansas researcher has penned a history of the struggle between man and bacteria - and warns that humankind someday may lose its advantage.

Read the full press release