If we asked you to envision the greatest threat to humanity today, what would you come up with? Would climate change represent your major concern, or are you more worried about nuclear war, natural disasters or a collision with vast chunks of cosmic debris? Many of these concerns are real, but somewhat unlikely. If you were to ask the majority of experts around the world where they perceived the greatest threat to humanity might originate, many of them would likely point towards the tiny viruses and bacteria that so often go unnoticed. Whether you’re a medical researcher in this field or another, how often have you considered this in the past?
Antibiotic resistant bacteria
Bacteria have very short life spans and can reproduce very quickly, often in great numbers. These traits help to make many forms of bacteria so virulent, but they also mean that the evolutionary process is far more rapid than in larger, more long-lived life forms. For a long time now, medical professionals have treated bacterial infections using antibiotics, but thanks to the rapid reproduction and thus evolution of bacteria, new strains have begun to develop possessed of an immunity to many of our existing drugs. This problem is exacerbated as bacteria are able to share immunity through gene-containing plasmids or other means.
Medical researchers have been combatting the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria with the use of new varieties of antibiotics, but it is a battle that many argue they are slowly losing. The ability of bacteria to develop immunities to our existing treatments far outstrips our capacity to research and develop new drug strains. Many infectious disease experts are concerned that, given a short amount of time, we’ll no longer be able to treat patients suffering from bacterial infections and other contagious diseases.
So, is there anything to stop us from careering headlong into a plague-like dystopia? A brief examination of human history will reveal to us the damage that a particularly virulent bacteria can do to a population – think of the bubonic plague or the Spanish flu as particular examples. In the 21st century, we live in far greater proximity to one another than ever before. Should the perfect storm occur and a deadly bacterium with all of the worst characteristics take hold of a city such as London, there would be little we could do to combat the spread of infection.
The vast majority of observers see such a scenario as an inevitability unless we adopt radically different approaches to medical research and development. It is human nature to live for the present: to see the world around us as constant and immutable rather than planning for an uncomfortable future, but we must adopt an attitude of foresight and forward planning if we are to protect our species from the inevitable concerns and problems of tomorrow. Already, many medical researchers have advised doctors to limit or vary the antibiotics they prescribe unless absolutely necessary in an attempt to remove such selection pressures from bacterial populations. Alongside this, greater investment in the sciences and smarter use of research resources – such as by automating data inputting tasks and leaving qualified researchers free to work on analysis – will all contribute in our fight against the eternal threat of infectious diseases.
We need to encourage a medical research culture and to invest in it, heavily if necessary, or fall victim to disasters such as the one forecast above later down the line. Our accurate healthcare data capture solutions are tried and tested, cost-effective means of collating healthcare information in order to generate new conclusions, so make the most of the services we offer on our website to combat the healthcare issues of tomorrow.