Colistin Resistant “Superbugs” May Be In the Future

Medical Research.

antibiotic resistanceFor some time, medical researchers and public health officials have cautioned that the ongoing spread of resistant bacteria could significantly impact treatment options, making routine procedures and surgeries life threatening, and even minor infections, dangerous.

Researchers had previously identified a transferable gene for Colistin, the last resort antibiotic for treacherous “superbugs” which are resistant to the strongest traditional antibiotics.  Since bacteria had not been exchanging genes for Colistin resistance, in recent years it has been the best weapon for treating bacterial infections that are multi-drug resistant. However, last November Chinese and British scientists reported Colistin resistance in pigs, setting off alarm bells and causing researchers to begin to search for Colistin resistant genes in humans, and in our food supply.

The recent report of a Pennsylvania woman with a bacterial infection resistant to Colistin has realized those fears. As reported in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, the results showed that the infection could not be treated with any safe dose of Colistin. The sample was sent to the Multidrug-Resistant Organism Repository and Surveillance Network (MRSN) at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) for sequencing, which revealed the presence of the Colistin-resistant gene, mcr-1. Researchers now say that bacteria now seem to be exchanging genes, meaning Colistin may be losing its effectiveness as an antibiotic; and in the United State, that may signal the end of effective use of antibiotics.

An urgent health response is now in progress to isolate and prevent the spread of mcr-1. Vigilant surveillance of such multidrug-resistant bacteria allows for earlier and more accurate identification of the origin of the bacteria, and scientists can use samples stored in MRSN’s growing repository to identify trends in prevalence and resistance and establish best practices for the healthcare industry.

Co-founder and Director of MRSN COL Emil Lesho says: “Through our surveillance system, we have the unique ability to coordinate source information with susceptibility and sequencing data, and if need be, go back to understand changes in infecting organisms to best treat infection and track emerging multidrug-resistant organisms.”