Bioethics Blogs

Resistance to Colistin: A Doomsday Scenario?

Julie Perry calls for action to prevent antibiotics resistance.

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A report published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on November 18, 2015 documented the emergence of a new form of antibiotic resistance in China. This report has garnered a lot of international attention because scientists found resistance to colistin, an antibiotic of ‘last resort’ without which many bacterial infections would be completely untreatable. Bacteria carrying this new resistance gene were found in raw meat, food animals, and some hospital patients.

As these bacteria spread, so too does resistance to colistin. What is most worrying to scientists is the fact that the resistance gene found in the bacteria was found on a mobile genetic element called a plasmid. This means that the resistance gene can easily spread amongst bacterial species and could eventually end up in bacteria that cause severe disease.

Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria. They do so by targeting structures or genetic pathways that are only found in bacteria (not in humans or animals), and are therefore generally very safe and effective drugs. Antibiotics are vital to the treatment of infectious diseases. They are also crucial to the prevention of infection following Cesarean sections, organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, kidney dialysis, and a myriad of other areas of modern medicine we now consider routine. The downside of the ubiquitous use of antibiotics, however, is the development of antibiotic resistance.

Hospital-Associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Bacteria. Interaction of MRSA (green bacteria) with a human white cell. Credit: NIAID

Antibiotic resistance is generally a misunderstood concept.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.