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In her latest blog, Lucy Crawford considers the issue of antibiotic resistance and how ants may hold the key to medical advances in this area.
In the UK, sepsis is the most common cause of death with over 44,000 deaths every year.
With no new antibiotic developments (only 2 new antibiotic classes have been introduced in the last 40 years) it seems we are not making enough progress to fight these deadly infections.
Causes of antibiotic resistance
There are a number of suggested causes for the increase in antibiotic resistance:
With such disastrous potential consequences, a significant amount of research is currently underway looking at alternatives to antibiotics. Research carried out at Oxford University looked at the effect of phages and viral phage therapy. The viruses that infect and kill bacteria are known as bacteriophages or phages. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million trillion trillion phages in the world (which is more than any other organism on Earth combined!). Initial research suggests encouraging results at successfully fighting infection, by exposing bacteria to phages.
Could ants hold the key to our survival?
Leafcutter ants transport leaf sections of plant underground where it decays and forms a food source and fungus. To protect this, and to regulate the growth of the fungus, ants cultivate antibiotic-producing bacteria on their own bodies. This is found to be more soluble in water making it potentially extremely useful in human treatment.
It is possible we will be able to learn from how these ant systems protect themselves and their colonies against infection and, as a result, develop a better strain for use in human treatment.
What else can we do?
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