Antibiotic resistance

The general medical rule that antibiotics help cure bacterial infections is no longer universally applicable. Bacteria are increasingly developing resistances to antibiotics.

Antibiotics are not always the best cure: Keeping warm and taking a rest are often sufficient to recover from illness. © thinkstock

The general medical rule that antibiotics help cure bacterial infections is no longer universally applicable. Bacteria are increasingly developing resistances to antibiotics. As a result, patients are more severely affected by longer lasting infections which may even lead to death. We need to work together to reduce the risks entailed by resistance. That is why we have made antibiotic resistance a priority topic of the German G7 Presidency.

Together with cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases are the most common cause of death worldwide. Infections are caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Epidemics like Ebola reveal how dangerous these pathogens are.

We have known about the effect of antibiotics since the discovery of penicillin: They prevent bacterial growth or even destroy bacteria. The problem is that bacteria can defend themselves against antibiotics. They can become resistant. Multiresistant pathogens are a particular health hazard. Today's antibiotics are unable to combat them effectively, which leads to longer and more severe infections or even death.

Success requires joint action

The international community is aware of the danger posed by multiresistant pathogens. We must now firmly address this global challenge in a joint effort.  Countries will only be able to combat this danger if they join forces. Antibiotic resistance is therefore a priority topic of the German G7 Presidency.

What can we do to combat multiresistant pathogens or prevent such multiresistance in the first place? Researchers can make valuable contributions by working to produce new effective antibiotics that are needed to combat multiresistant bacteria. At the same time, we need to improve our understanding of how resistance develops and spreads among bacteria. This is the only way to develop effective strategies to prevent increasing resistance.

Research can help

The Federal Research Ministry (BMBF), the Federal Ministry of Health, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and numerous relevant associations jointly drafted the German Antibiotic Resistance Strategy in 2008. The main objectives of this strategy are to prevent the occurrence and spread of multiresistant pathogens and improve precautions against hospital infections. The focus is on the responsible use of antibiotics to treat humans and animals.

The BMBF contributes to the strategy by supporting various research projects under different funding priorities:

InfectControl 2020 is a highly innovative research collaboration between research institutes and industrial companies. They develop fundamentally new strategies for early detection, combatting and successfully controlling infectious diseases and resistant pathogens.

The German Centre for Infection Research (DZIF) brings together the expertise of outstanding infection researchers throughout Germany. "Healthcare-associated and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections" and "Novel antiinfectives" are two of the Centre's fields of work. They focus on research into antibiotic resistance and controlling the spread of such resistance and on the development of novel methods for prevention and treatment.

The CSCC Centre for Sepsis Control and Care in Jena is one of eight Integrated Research and Treatment Centres in Germany funded by the BMBF. It deals with the control and care of sepsis, a disease caused by bacteria. The clinical infectiology research group at Jena University Hospital carries out research on resistant pathogens.

The Health Region Baltic Sea Coast (HIC@RE) works to control the spread of multiresistant pathogens and sees itself as a model for Germany. It is an action alliance against multiresistant bacteria and involves several partners from science and society.

Transmission between humans and animals

Livestock breeding is another area where antibiotics are used and where multiresistance occurs. Resistant bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans or vice versa through direct contact or the consumption of animal products. The BMBF is funding two research collaborations in which doctors and vets study the transmission of resistant bacteria between humans and animals.