What you need to know about antibiotic resistance

What is antibiotic resistance and what do you need to know about it? Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology, Martin Goldberg, tells us all about it and his current research to find new antimicrobial compounds with Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

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What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is the term used to describe when microorganisms are no-longer killed or inhibited by antibiotics that they are normally sensitive to. A well-known example of a multi-drug resistant organism is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) where only a limited number of antibiotics are available to treat patients infected with it.

A report for the UK Government in 2014 predicted that if antibiotic resistance continues to increase at current levels, by 2050, more than 10 million people will die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections. By contrast, it is expected that 8 million will die from cancer. This crisis has resulted due to several factors: lack of investment by the pharmaceutical industry in drug discovery, chronic abuse of antibiotics in the agricultural sector and poor regulation of access to antimicrobials in many countries. Antimicrobial compounds are easy to find in nature, for example:

  • Many microorganisms produce antibiotics to kill or inhibit competitor species (eg penicillin, tetracycline, streptomycin)
  • Plants produce many compounds to protect themselves against microbial attack (eg garlic, thyme, cinnamon)
  • Scientists can design compounds by studying the molecular structure of key proteins in bacteria and seeking molecules that block their activity (eg Ciprofloxacin).

What challenges do we face against antibiotic resistance?

Significant challenges for the pharmaceutical industry include the identification of compounds that are toxic to microorganisms but are (ideally) harmless to animals / humans. Such compounds also need to be easy to administer, are effective against multi-drug resistant microorganisms and are rapid-acting. Also of concern is that such compounds should ideally not impact upon the normal microbial flora residing in and on the body as these play many vital roles in keeping us healthy.

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Plants as medicine

Cultures around the world have exploited the medicinal properties of plants for centuries for the treatment of many different ailments eg inflammation, pain, infections, stress etc. We have been studying plants as valuable sources of antimicrobial compounds because of their relative abundance and ease of extraction. Some of the compounds we have been working with are to be found in common plants that we encounter in daily life for example liquorice root and many folk remedies from around the world. We are experimenting with these compounds to explore their properties eg effectiveness against multi-drug resistant pathogens including TB, toxicity to humans, speed of action and formulation into therapeutic treatments.

I have been working on developing a novel non-toxic antimicrobial compound that could potentially treat tuberculosis and a range of multi-drug resistant pathogens, such as MRSA and Clostridioides difficile, alongside Birmingham Botanical Gardens, who have been supporting the research. You can find out more about this in the video above.

Thank you to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for their support in our research.

Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology

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[00:00:02] Rob Hi. My name's Rob and I'm a Biomedical Science student. Today I'm going to talking to Dr. Martin Goldberg about the research we conduct at BCU.

[00:00:16] Martin We're at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. And so this is the starting point for all my research. And so I'd like to just maybe take a little stroll through here, show you a bit more about what the Botanical Gardens is about.

[00:00:32] Rob How did this research come about and why are you doing it?

[00:00:36] Martin So as a clinical microbiologist, I am acutely conscious of the the growing public health crisis regarding antibiotic resistance, and I've been interested in looking at different sources of anti microbials, new sources that we can use to plug the current shortage. 

[00:00:57] Martin I had the idea of contacting the Botanical Gardens to see if they would be willing to let us explore some of their plant species to see whether any of them might have useful activity. So they make fantastic projects for students.

[00:01:13] Rob And how does your research benefit the students?

[00:01:16] Martin As a microbiology lecturer, we spend quite a lot of time talking about antibiotics, how they work and of course the problems of resistance and the fact that they get a chance to see for themselves the impact. And so it helps to reinforce their knowledge and understanding.