AUA 2016: New Strategies for Infection Control: Insights from Evolutionary Ecology - Session Highlights

Dr. Ross-Gillespie gave an informative lecture on the current state of infection control and use of antibiotics.  Antibiotic resistance has been ongoing, but recently has become a more pressing issue given that new drugs have not been developed in many years.  Currently there are 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually due to antibiotic resistance.  By 2050, it is projected that there could be 10 million deaths annually from antibiotic resistance and a cost to society of $100 trillion.

There are many parties that have contributed to this state of affairs.  Pharmaceutical companies have not developed new antibiotics for a variety of reasons. It is difficult and expensive to identify new compounds and there are many regulatory issues that can hinder the process.  There is also a need for better technology to improve the quality and quantity of microbiology research.  The use of antibiotics by the agricultural community and resulting spread of these drugs to the water and soil have lead to greater incidental human exposure and resistance.  Finally, as health care providers, we overprescribe antibiotics and need to improve our techniques to prevent the spread of infections throughout the hospital.

His group has focused on the ecology of microbes as an additional way to fight infections. They are studying the “social lives” of pathogens, their need for nutrition and space, as a mechanism of defeating infection.  As an example, pseudomonas aeruginosa excretes sideropheres in order to scavenge the iron it needs to survive.  Dr. Ross-Gillespie has found that by introducing gallium into the environment, sideropheres will bind the gallium instead and be rendered useless to the bacteria.  In a caterpillar model, using similar techniques, they have been able to reduce the virulence of bacterial infections. 

In conclusion, antibiotic resistance is a serious problem that will require a worldwide, multidisciplinary collaboration between microbiologists, health care providers, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies. Approaching it from an ecological perspective may provide further insights and solutions.

Written by: Lisa Parrillo, University of Pennsylvania, AUA 2016 San Diego, CA