A small wound on the finger or a dental operation could suddenly become life-threatening - because more and more bacteria are resistant to common antibiotics. Every year, more than 30,000 people in Europe, and over 700,000 people worldwide, die from multiresistant bacteria, which often spread in hospitals. The annual World Antibiotic Awareness Week from 18 to 24 November 2019 focuses on the problems of antibiotic use, resistance development and discovery of new active substances.
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Since the mid-1940s, antibiotic resistance has spread. Infections with multiresistant germs are increasing worldwide. Already today up to 95 percent of the Staphylococcus aureus strains are resistant. This means that an important pillar of our modern health research is breaking away.
Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics as a natural effect of their rapid evolution. Because bacteria can exchange their resistance genes with each other, there are now "super germs" against which almost no available antibiotic is effective. These antibiotic resistances are one of the greatest threats to global health: They lead to longer hospital stays and thus to rising treatment costs and increased mortality. There are various reasons for their spread: For example, antibiotics are prescribed too quickly for the symptoms of common colds, where they are usually ineffective, taken overa too short period of time or used improperly in industrial livestock farming.
Scientists from HZI and its location in Saarbrücken, the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), together with scientists from Saarland University, are studying the mechanisms of resistance formation, developing methods for the early detection of resistant pathogens and developing new treatment concepts that specifically circumvent the development of resistances. They are also investigating natural substances as sources for new drugs.
Healing treasures from nature
Almost all antibiotics originate from natural substances. Among other things, they originated in bacteria that have to compete for habitat and nutrients against other bacteria. These active ingredients work precisely and effectively because evolution has developed them over millions of years. Organisms on land and in water still have an enormous reservoir of potential active substances that no one has yet discovered. HZI scientists are working on finding these treasures. Especially in soil and marine bacteria, in tropical fungi and in soil samples from all parts of the world, they are looking for substances that have the potential to combat pathogenic germs.
Using a nanogel as a drug taxi
Researchers throughout the world are looking for methods that allow to deliver drugs specifically to the site of a disease while reducing the side effects. Gregor Fuhrmann is also pursuing this goal: At the HIPS, he is investigating extracellular vesicles in combination with nanoparticles and nanogels in order to develop new therapeutic approaches.
In order to be able to cure infections and save patients in the clinic in the future, these substances must first be optimised for us: For example, they must be able to reach their destination in the body by means of suitable "active substance taxis" and only unfold their effect at the site of infection. Scientists from the HZI and the HIPS in Saarbrücken are working on this goal.
Racing against pathogens
More and more resistant pathogens are spreading that cannot be harmed by traditional antibiotics. They are a great danger to the public health systems throughout the world. Without a major change in medical research and development, diseases that can be treated today may become incurable in just a few years. [Learn more]
Cystobactamide: Antibiotics of the future?
Among the hospital germs, Gram-negative bacteria are particularly difficult to treat: Their double membrane envelope effectively keeps antibiotics from reaching their target. Remarkably, substances from the extensive collection of bacteria held by the HZI are now raising hopes for a remedy. The class of cystobactamids will be further developed into drugs in a partnership with the pharmaceutical company Evotec.