Understanding antibiotic resistance
Understanding antibiotic resistance

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Understanding antibiotic resistance

Week 6: Restocking the antibiotic armoury


In Week 5, you found out how and why antibiotic resistance has become a serious global, public health problem. You also learned about the types of behaviour that encourage the development and spread of antibiotic resistance.

This week, you will look at one approach to tackling the crisis – replenishing the depleted stock of drugs used to treat antibiotic-resistant infections. There are two options: to make new types of antibiotic or to make existing antibiotics more effective.

As you will discover this week, scientists and pharmaceutical companies must overcome many challenges in order to bring new drugs to the market. It is also worth bearing in mind the part that serendipity can play in this process.

Start this week by watching the video below about the accidental discovery of penicillin.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Skip transcript: Video 1 Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

Transcript: Video 1 Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

Having been brought up on a farm in Scotland, scientist Alexander Fleming wasn't afraid of getting his hands dirty, examining nasty bacteria, like Staphylococcus aureus, which in humans as well as horses can cause death as well as vomiting and boils. One day in 1928, Fleming came back from his holidays, he found some cultures of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which he'd meant to throw away, had died.
But instead of throwing them away, he stopped to think what might have caused some of his sample to die and the rest to live. After a lot of time and effort in his lab, Fleming worked out that some of his sample had been contaminated by a particular fungus, which he then managed to grow himself. As an ex-soldier in World War I, he'd seen hundreds of soldiers die due to bacterial infection. And he figured that if the fungus could kill bacteria on his bench, it might also kill bacteria in wounded soldiers.
And he was right. Having renamed his mould juice penicillin, it was ready for public consumption in time for the next war on D-Day. Penicillin has saved the lives of millions of people and horses.
End transcript: Video 1 Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.
Video 1 Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.
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By the end of this week, you should be able to:

  • recall key events in the history of antibiotics
  • explain how antibiotics are discovered and produced
  • describe the current antibiotic armoury
  • give reasons for the decline in the production of antibiotics
  • outline approaches to make existing antibiotics more effective
  • identify potential sources of novel antibiotics.

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