By Bobinec, Greg on November 21, 2019.
Lethbridge College microbiology researchers are spreading the word about the importance of knowing about antibiotics and the human cost of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
As part of the World Heath Organization’s Antibiotic Awareness Week, the college hosted two events to give students and staff an opportunity to learn about infection prevention and antibiotic resistance.
“This year we are offering an open lab so people will be able to come and observe their cells and observe their bacteria, observe also bacteria that are prepared under the microscopes and eventually we also collect bacteria from the place they want to check,” says Sophie KernŽis, microbiology senior research scientist. “It is very important to learn about bacteria as well as antibiotic resistance to bacteria because today we have more and more of this antibiotic resistance to infections.”
Educating the public about bacterial infections and antibiotics is vital toward the heath of humans over the next couple of decades. Penicillin was discovered in 1929 by Sir Alexander Flemming, which led to the rise of antibiotics in the 1950s and ’60s. Over the last 30 years, very few new antibiotics have been discovered, and with bacteria continually manipulating their genetic codes to resist antibiotics, the need for new antibiotics and safe practices for bacterial infections is high.
“Why we have this problem today is because we have been using antibiotics since 1940, which isn’t a bad thing, but we are basically selecting the population of bacteria that can grow with antibiotics,” says KernŽis. “The bacteria is really smart and can exchange genes between each other and work on the resistance towards antibiotics and then we have bacteria that we can’t treat anymore. The World Health Organization says if we don’t do anything, by 2050 10 million people will be dying from infectious diseases that are resistant to antibiotics.”
KernŽis leads the Antibiotic Alberta Plant Project, which is a Lethbridge College research project that is testing plants native to Alberta in hopes of discovering a new antibiotic molecules for medical, agricultural and other uses. KernŽis says that acting now to find new antibiotics will help in the future, and the research the college is doing is working to help many industries.
“Scientists have to do their part in looking at new vaccinations, new antibiotics, new ways to prevent or to cure infections,” says KernŽis. “Acting now will help us in the future, so we need to find new antibiotics which is what we do here at the college. We have this project to find new antibiotics from plants to serve humans, but also to serve agriculture for many different things from surgeries, cancer treatments, because everybody needs antibiotics today.”
The work scientists are doing to find new antibiotics and learn more about antibiotic-resistant bacteria is as important as what the public can do to prevent the risk of infection and spread of antibiotic resistance. What the public can do to help the issue includes: washing hands properly; preparing food hygienically; limiting contact with others when sick; practising safe sex; keeping vaccination up to date; not sharing antibiotics with others; and supporting the human right to safe water and sanitation.