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Research

UT Opens Center to Combat Superbug Crisis


By Britni R. McAshan | December 1, 2016

In 1928, the world’s first true antibiotic was created when Alexander Fleming left a petri dish by an open window overnight. The mold that formed in the dish led to the creation of penicillin, a drug that revolutionized modern medicine and saved countless lives.

Nearly a century later, the United Nations and the World Health Organization have estimated that antibiotic resistance will be the leading cause of death throughout the world by 2050. So, what happened?

“Antibiotics are the only drugs that, by definition, lose their effectiveness over time,” said Arjun Srinivasan, M.D., associate director for Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We live in the era of the ‘Superbug’ of antibiotic resistance.”

Srinivasan was the keynote speaker Nov. 29 for the opening of the UT Center for Antimicrobial Resistance and Microbial Genomics (CARMiG) and the Gulf Coast Consortia Cluster for Antimicrobial Resistance. Texas Medical Center leaders joined leaders from the CDC and health leaders from around the world at the BioScience Research Collaborative at Rice University to discusss the importance of this new center.

In the United States alone, clinicians and providers must prescribe alternate antibiotics more than two million times a year because patients have built up a resistance to recommended prescriptions, according to Srinivasan. This leads to 23,000 deaths annually.

Humans have also built up resistance to antibiotics by eating animals that have been injected with antibiotics, he added.

“These antibiotic-resistant bacteria are everywhere,” Srinivasan told the crowd at Rice University. “They are in health care facilities, in the community, they are in the food you eat and, because of the ubiquitous presence of these organisms, we are on a trajectory to encounter a staggering number of deaths. It is estimated there will be 10 million deaths per year in the world by 2050 from antibiotic resistance if we don’t find an alternate route.”

Antibiotics are integral to the advances that have been made in modern medicine.

“What happens to chemotherapy?” Srinivasan said. “What happens to organ transplantation or joint replacement surgery? You can’t treat infections without antibiotics. Patients are already being told they cannot receive a lung transplant—not because they are not a good candidate to receive a lung transplant or because they don’t need one, but because they have bacteria that can’t be treated by an antibiotic. So if we give you a lung transplant, we could kill you with this infection.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UT Health) created CARMiG and Gulf Coast Consortia’s Cluster for Antimicrobial Resistance in response to the global crisis of antibiotic resistance. Cesar Arias, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine, microbiology and molecular genetics at McGovern Medical School at UT Health, will lead the center.

Srinivasan said doctors and researchers need to find new ways to attack antibiotic resistance.

“We have to stop doing all of this the way we have been doing it and really reassess,” he said. “The solution to wicked problems is intense collaboration—bringing together a huge number of different fields, people who have knowledge in all of these different areas who come together bringing different types of ideas, different perspectives on a problem.”

Ceremony attendees underscored the spirit of collaboration behind CARMiG.

“This program brings together the talents, resources and capabilities of the Texas Medical Center,” said Peter Davies, M.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the Center for Translational Cancer Research Institute of BioSciences and Technology at Texas A&M University Health Science Center and Gulf Coast Consortia.“When an organization is created that allows scientists and researchers with shared interests to come together, they can drive an agenda that moves the program forward. And antimicrobial resistance is the premier example of that.”

Attendees also watched the documentary, Resistance, by Michael Graziano. The film addresses the crisis of antibiotic resistance in the United States and shares the personal stories of two families.

“I hope Resistance offers some other ways of looking at the problem and informs people of the multifactorial nature of antibiotic resistance,” Graziano said. “When I was making this film, I kept hearing the word multifactorial and I am not a scientist, so what does that mean?! I came to understand that multifactorial is a specialist’s euphemism for cluster*&#@. We tried to make a film that was comprehensive and I hope that with Cesar and the center we can solve this multifactorial problem.”

CARMiG will host a Scientific Symposium Jan. 19-20 and offer a monthly educational seminar series beginning Feb. 2.

“Houston is home to the largest medical center in the world and not having antibiotics threatens to shut down medicine,” Arias said. “It is of tremendous urgency for us to step up and do something about it, and with the opening of this center we can focus on the research of antibiotic resistance and solve this problem.”




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