Issue No. 6: Beyond Antibiotics

Creative new solutions for squashing superbugs

What’s the solution to the superbug crisis? Policymakers and the media typically advocate newer, more potent antibiotics. But the truth is, no new medicine will permanently wipe out the drug-resistant bacteria and fungi that infect nearly 3 million Americans a year.
That’s why many scientists are now looking at outside-the-box solutions like vaccines and gene editing — and even researching whether artificial intelligence can assist in the fight.
Before we get to those details though, it’s important to understand why new answers are needed.
Drug-resistant bacteria kill 35,000 Americans annually, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that number could be low — a Washington University School of Medicine study puts the death toll as high as 162,000.
New antibiotics would absolutely help fight superbugs. But every microbe evolves to resist antibiotics. Any new treatments may work for a few years, or even a few decades. But ultimately, bacteria will adapt and become immune.
That’s why many scientists and policymakers are working on new technologies that neuter or kill harmful microbes without fueling resistance. One example is using a sophisticated gene-editing tool to train bacteria to destroy themselves.
Alternative solutions like this one could help us permanently defeat superbugs.

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