Rethinking antibiotics

tackling growing level of resistance
tackling growing level of resistance

This month, Dr Benson will begin a 10-week study trip, travelling to hospitals and laboratories in Sweden, the UK, Netherlands and the US, to explore innovative medical education, health technology and clinical microbiology.

‘Over my career, I’ve seen the clinical evolution of antibiotic resistance with a steady stream of new attention-grabbing ‘superbugs’,’ she said.

‘What I find fascinating is that we always seem surprised when the next one is reported. We forget that the initial discovery of antibiotics was based on observing that organisms produce antibiotics to survive competition with other organisms.

‘We also know that organisms evolve very efficiently by developing and sharing genes that code for antibiotic resistance.’

Dr Benson said the challenge was to slow down the development of resistance and look more broadly at ways of reducing infection and stopping the spread of antibiotic resistance.

‘Antibiotics are a short-term measure until we can develop new strategies to avoid infection in the first place and smart ways to stop them causing damage when infection does occur, without the collateral damage.’

‘When we use antibiotics, we damage the organism that causes the infection, but also the other organisms that are exposed to the drug, whether that be in our gut or when we excrete the drug.

‘This drives the evolution of resistance.’

Dr Benson said doctors and the public needed to better understand not only how micro-organisms caused disease, but also how they are critical for good health.

Dr Benson said she would use her fellowship to examine ways of improving diagnostic reasoning around the use of antibiotics and improving the laboratory diagnosis of infections, including smarter computers that guide doctors on the best tests to use.

‘I hope to contribute to our medical and public discussion about how we interact with micro-organisms.

‘Antibiotics are central to treating severe infections, but wherever possible, we would do well to consider why the infection occurred and what can be done to prevent or reduce the risk of future infections.’