The Antibiotic Catastrophe: Developing Novel Therapies
The discovery, development, and deployment of antibiotics revolutionized medicine and agriculture in the twentieth century. Antibiotics provided tools to combat bacterial infections, dramatically reducing human morbidity and mortality. However, widespread use of antibiotics created a large uncontrolled experiment, demonstrating how evolution by natural selection could increase bacterial resistance to these drugs. This rise of resistance created our current public health crisis, which threatens to return bacterial-disease mortality to levels of the pre-antibiotic era. This master class will consider the urgent need to develop alternative technologies to address this global medical problem. In particular, an idea that predates antibiotics is returning to view: “phage therapy,” or the use of bacteria-specific viruses (bacteriophages) to attack and kill pathogens. We will explore the amazing biodiversity of these viruses and current efforts to develop novel phages that target antibiotic-resistant bacteria, buoyed by recent successes in using phages as “drugs” in emergency patient treatment.
Paul E. Turner, the Elihu Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, examines how viruses evolutionarily adapt to overcome new challenges. His laboratory uses an interdisciplinary approach to investigate these processes, employing techniques from microbiology, population genetics, genomics, molecular biology, and mathematical modeling. He was a member of the United States delegation at the joint USA-Russia Workshop on Infectious Disease held in Novosibirsk, Russia.