get rid of a

Fighting bacteria without antibiotics | Jody Druce | TEDxYouth@ISPrague



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the average person has a ratio of human

to bacterial cells about one to one you

might think of yourself as human but I

prefer to think of you as extremely

outnumbered one human to approximately

39 trillion distinct bacterial organisms

however if you were to remove each and

every bacterium from your body all 39

trillion cells would only weigh about 37

grams but only about five hundredths of

a percent of your mass it seems

incredible then but such a tiny fraction

of your body could be so important not

only a bacterial key to physiological

processes like digestion and even human

emotions they call serious illnesses

which we have only learned to deal with

in the last century bacteria are more

complex than what was once believed what

scientists have found is that thinking

of bacteria in terms of individual

organisms just isn't practical and that

in fact that everything they do is the

result of inter bacterial communication

this opens up whole new worlds of

possibilities new ways to treat

bacterial infections and for this reason

today I'm here to talk to you about why

we can't kill the bad bacteria and why

maybe we won't have to this idea of

treating bacterial infections without

actually killing the bacteria goes

against about 90 years of antibiotics

era wisdom but now as antibiotic

resistant organisms become more and more

of a problem humans need to find ways of

asking better questions like how can we

treat bacterial infections without

antibiotics and in the process

potentially outsmart natural selection

but before I get into solving this

problem let's try to figure out how we

got here in the first place today

happens to be my birthday I'm turning 18

but without antibiotics it's possible I

wouldn't be or more likely that I'd be

here in a wheelchair last school year I

got Lyme disease after being bitten by a

tick or collecting data in the forest

for my biology class as it happened I

got a prescription for about ten days of

antibiotics without antibiotics I would

have been at risk for partial paralysis

and a whole host of other scary symptoms

more importantly if any of us had been

around in a time where antibiotics

weren't readily available chances are

some of us wouldn't be around today it

has been estimated that the life

expectancy of the average western person

would drop to around 50 without

antibiotics that means that many of you

in the audience would be on your last

legs or dead

antibiotics really are the magic

medicine that changed the world

they turned the once deadly infected cut

into the non-issue it is today and

prevented millions of people from dying

from illnesses like pneumonia

tuberculosis and scarlet fever however

as we know antibiotics are by no means a

perfect solution Alexander Fleming the

man responsible for the discovery of

penicillin was well aware of the risks

of misusing the drug in his Nobel Prize

acceptance speech he said that those who

did were morally responsible for the

death of the man who succumbs to

penicillin resistant organisms and he

was right humans have only themselves to

blame for what has happened since what

we have seen is a predictable succession

of new drugs being developed

followed by resistance being observed

within only a few years antibiotic

resistance has become a major problem

largely because of the way the drugs

have been used according to the Center

for Disease Control

one in three prescriptions of

antibiotics are unnecessary the

statistic points to a major flaw in the

way antibiotic

prescribes and possibly on the fact of

patient expectations when you seek

medical care think for a second about

what you expect when you go to the

doctor with a cold that just won't go

away do you expect antibiotics do you

even ask for them the fact is that 95%

of chest colds are viral antibiotics

aren't going to help you there and this

is where the problem really begins each

time antibiotics are taken the majority

of bacteria are killed leaving only

those with mutation allowing them to be

immune to the effects of the drug to

survive the fact that antibiotics are

prescribed way more than they should be

means that resistant strains of bacteria

are far more common but it isn't just

human use that is driving this epidemic

when antibiotics are used in mass in

factory farming not only are resistant

strains of bacteria produced but they

are transported among other things

through manure to agriculture the result

is that humans come in frequent contact

with resistant strains of bacteria

because of the food we eat global

factory farming now means that in the UK

for example forty five percent of all

antibiotics are given to animals the CDC

reports that one in five resistant

bacterial infections are caused by

animals or by food what this shows is

the complexity of the issue producing

new antibiotics requires large financial

investment and is becoming harder and

harder at the same time pharmaceutical

companies have no incentive to develop

new antibiotics because such a drug

would only be used as a last resort

meaning there's no money to be made even

if there was an incentive new

antibiotics are not a solution to the

problem when they only prolong the

inevitable a superbug which is immune to

all of our antibiotics the point

is that this is really serious we have a

problem which could potentially end

human life and our solution only worsens

the issue now when I originally decided

to do this talk my conclusion was

basically going to be and that's why

humanity could be well wiped out any

moment now

my opinion there was no good solution

for the same reason I don't think humans

can save themselves from global warming

we like the way we live and we don't

like to change but in my research I came

across a new field of study which does

away with the idea of killing bacteria

but instead tries to stop them from

communicating it turns out that bacteria

are more than millions of tiny organisms

working independently but that in actual

fact that everything they do including

to become pathogenic is through a

process called quorum sensing bacteria

work much the way an army does a lone

soldier out on the battlefield would be

extremely brave potentially suicidal if

he were to run out against an entire

army by himself instead as an army

prepares for battle each soldier is

likely heartened to look around and see

an uncountable number of other soldiers

also ready to run at the enemy like

soldiers bacteria do not work alone they

use quorum sensing to measure population

density to make sure that they don't

take on battles they don't have the

chance to win the way it works is that

each bacterium sends out a specific

chemical or autoinducer while also

interpreting the chemicals sent out by

bacteria all around them in this way

bacteria are able to tell whether there

are enough of them to perform mass

actions now what scientists at Princeton

discovered through animal research was

that by disrupting this process not only

could bacterial diseases treated but

natural selection can be evaded

instead of applying a selective pressure

to the population and leaving only

resistant genes in the gene pool

this concept means that bacteria have no

chance to become resistant this all

sounds fantastic but scientists are

working on are drugs that either prevent

the bacteria from creating or releasing

these autoinducers or prevent them from

interpreting them what this means is

that even if potentially harmful

bacteria were to enter your body

they'd have no chance to become a

disease because they wouldn't know that

they were enough for them to be an

infection the problem however is that

these concepts have never been fully

applied to human clinical trials while

some quorum sensing inhibition concepts

have as part of largely unrelated

research been tested the idea as a whole

has only really been shown to work in

animals at the same time the CDC reports

that in the US alone over two million

people are infected with resistant

bacterial infections per year and that

22,000 died it seems the superbugs of

science fiction are becoming a reality

what makes me angry is that instead of

pouring money into the solution really

making it the priority that it should be

not only our pharmaceutical companies

not doing this or even producing new

antibiotics they instead choose to focus

their efforts are marketing their

current drugs and in the process only

worsen the issue all of this being said

I would argue that if these concepts are

applied to human research this could end

up being the most significant medical

discovery since penicillin what has been

proposed is a solution to what many

including myself what was an unsolvable

problem thank you

[Applause]