Alongside health threats like COVID-19 and heart disease, an even larger health crisis is brewing. Antibiotic resistance is considered by the Word Health Organization (WHO) to be one of humanity’s greatest threats. It occurs when the bacteria that make us sick – causing everything from an infected cut to pneumonia – no longer respond to antibiotics.

Antibiotics are the cornerstone of modern medicine. They allow us to perform complex surgeries without the risk of a deadly infection; they enable joint replacements and organ transplants; and they keep cancer patients safe as they go through treatments that compromise their natural immune systems. Without antibiotics, none of these lifesaving treatments would be possible without significant risk to the patient.

How is it that the antibiotics we have relied on for over half a century have suddenly stopped working? The truth is, there is nothing sudden about it.

“Bacteria have the ability to evolve and have always had ways to fight molecules like antibiotics,” says Dr. Dao Nguyen, Clinician-Scientist in the Respiratory Diseases Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). “They are equipped to become resistant, and it has become a problem for us because after several decades of widespread antibiotic use, drug resistance is becoming more prevalent.”

We have this problem of antibiotic resistance because antibiotics were so

successful that they were used too much, and we didnt pay attention

to the rise in drug resistance.”

… Dr. Nguyen, Clinician-Scientist at RI-MUHC

The prevalence of antibiotic resistance is not only due to overuse in health care systems: widespread use in farm animals and agriculture is also causing more and more antibiotic resistant bugs to crop up in the environment. When drug resistant bacteria cause infections, a course of antibiotics kills off all of the non-resistant bacteria, but the antibiotic resistant ones remain and multiply.

“We have this problem because antibiotics were so successful that they were used too much, and we didn’t pay attention to the rise in drug resistance,” says Dr. Nguyen. “We became complacent, have not innovated enough and we stopped developing new antibiotics.”

Dr. Nguyen is determined to change this. She is leading the charge to create the Antimicrobial Resistance Centre at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and McGill University, which will bring together over 50 researchers from a wide range of disciplines to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance. Their goal is to find innovative new approaches to preventing and fighting drug resistant infections.

To combat antibiotic resistance, MUHC and McGill researchers are thinking beyond traditional antibiotics. One approach is to discover materials that are inherently antimicrobial, taking inspiration from nature’s design. For example, dragonfly wings are covered in microscopic spikes that skewer bacteria on contact. Structures like this could be used to create a new generation of medical implants (e.g. hip replacements) less prone to infection. Similarly, microscopic coatings of antimicrobial metals could create surfaces where bacteria have difficulty living.

Other MI4 scientists are taking a much different tack, working on harnessing the microbiome, the good bacteria living in our bodies. They make our vitamins, digest foods and influence our immune response. The researchers are looking into introducing good bacteria to change the gut microbiomes of patients and help them get rid of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The idea is that this new mix of gut bacteria will proliferate and push out the drug resistant ones.

These are just two of many projects that will come to fruition at the new Antimicrobial Resistance Centre.  The MUHC Foundation is raising $20 million to launch the centre, which will bring together the scientific community of the MUHC and McGill University with the common goal of preventing a post-antibiotic world. Planned research includes boosting the immune system to fight infection, partnering with hospitals in developing countries to provide education on slowing antimicrobial resistance, and modeling how antimicrobial resistance occurs using AI, among others.

“The Antimicrobial Research Centre will foster collaboration and interdisciplinary research so we can tackle this problem from many different angles,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Even today in Canada, one in 19 deaths are related to a drug-resistant infection.”

New innovations to fight infection are particularly urgent because the antibiotic development pipeline is dry. No new classes of antibiotics have been approved since the 1990s, and big pharma companies avoid antibiotic development because new ones are difficult to discover and costly to develop, they are not lucrative, and resistance always develops.

Antimicrobial resistance is a global issue, but there are actions you can take to help.

“Avoid antibiotics if you don’t need them. Do not expect or look for an antibiotic if you simply have a viral infection, like a cold. Avoid using them too much, and always finish your prescription to avoid a recurrent infection, which could be caused by an antibiotic resistant strain,” says Dr. Nguyen.

“The MUHC Foundation is raising $60 million to support MI4 as part of

its Dream Big campaign, which is raising $200 million to change the

course of lives and medicine.”

Concerned citizens can also advocate for better policies by contacting local politicians or policymakers, and support causes that promote better stewardship of existing antibiotics. They can also invest in the development of new solutions to fight antimicrobial resistance, such as those created by Dr. Nguyen and her colleagues.

The Antimicrobial Resistance Centre is an initiative of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4), which brings together over 250 scientists to solve humanity’s deadliest puzzles— COVID-19, tuberculosis and antibiotic resistance. The MUHC Foundation is raising $60 million to support MI4 as part of its Dream Big campaign, which is raising $200 million to change the course of lives and medicine.

By dreaming big and investing in a safer future together, we can turn the tide on antimicrobial resistance.

To learn more and to support MI4 and the Antimicrobial Resistance Centre, visit

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