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Spartan experts answer a global call to action to help ensure a healthy future for all

Antibiotic resistance poses a threat to the health of humans and animals everywhere. That’s why leading agriculture, animal health and veterinary medicine experts at Michigan State University are working to address the biologically complex issue. These Spartans are combatting resistance and educating the public for a safer, healthier world.

Symptoms of a problem

  • Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed drugs in human medicine.
  • About one-third to one-half of antibiotic use is unnecessary or inappropriate.
  • Antibiotic resistance develops naturally over time and cannot be prevented.
  • About 2 million U.S. residents per year acquire serious bacterial infections that are resistant to one or more antibiotics.
  • Antibiotic use is the single most important factor leading to resistance around the world.
  • Antibiotics are commonly used in food animals to prevent, control and treat disease.
  • No new class of antibiotics for animal agriculture has been brought to market in more than 30 years.

There are two facets of the antibiotics conundrum: The increasing and occasionally inappropriate prescription of antibiotics has led to significant bacterial resistance in humans, and the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture allows these drugs to enter the environment in numerous ways.”

— Felicia Wu, Director of the MSU Center for Health Impacts of Agriculture

Growing Resistance

For generations, society has relied on antibiotics to cure a number of illnesses and diseases, some of which are life-threatening. Today, however, there is concern that we are moving toward a time when the current supply of antibiotics is no longer useful. Becoming ill with an infection untreatable by modern medicine is terrifying. But that is likely preventable if society becomes more judicious about the use of these drugs and new antibiotics are brought to the marketplace.

Antimicrobial resistance, or drug resistance, is one of the most urgent health threats facing society. MSU is leading efforts to combat this serious problem, educate the public, work with industry and discover new solutions to attain optimal health for humans, animals and the environment.

There are many academic institutions developing antibiotics, and if we can keep up the federal funding for research, we can continue to develop them and get them in the pipeline.”

— Christopher Waters, Microbiologist and molecular geneticist

The First Warning

In 1928, Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming discovered the world’s first antibiotic. Amidst a stack of forgotten bacteria-filled petri dishes in his hospital laboratory in London, Fleming found one with a fungus that had killed the surrounding germs. He extracted the mold, grew it and determined it could ward off many other types of bacteria. By the 1940s, Fleming’s mold became the first commercially available antibiotic—penicillin.

Early on, Fleming found that bacteria developed resistance whenever too little penicillin was used or if the drug wasn’t taken for an adequate length of time. As he traveled the world making speeches about his discovery, Fleming warned listeners about the need for proper use and dosage of the antibiotic. That cautionary tale of drug resistance is now being told with greater vigor than ever before.

When we use antibiotics, even only when we’re clinically supposed to, we affect the levels of resistance in the animals and environments in which we use them. By having alternatives, we take some of that selective pressure away and slow the propagation of resistance.”

— Bo Norby, Large animal veterinarian serving on U.S. committee addressing antibiotic resistance

A “Post-antibiotic” Era

From the 1950s through the 1980s, health care providers became complacent about antibiotic use, in large part due to a steady supply of new drugs. Since then, however, that pipeline has slowed, and development of new drugs was eventually outpaced by development of drug resistance.

As cases of untreatable hospital-acquired infections, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and drug-resistant gonorrhea emerge, experts believe a “post-antibiotic era” is nearing. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a 100-plus page report listing all types of antibiotic resistance threats in the United States. Since then, numerous national and global efforts have begun to address the issue, including the formation of Task Force on Antibiotic Resistance in Production Agriculture created by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. MSU is working with health care, agriculture and environmental industries to find solutions.

The development of new antibiotics in no way keeps up with the potential development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The bacteria are far faster at adapting than we are at developing new antibiotics.”

— Lorraine Sordillo, MSU veterinarian and bovine immunology specialist

Judicious Use

It is clear that society must be more judicious in its use of antibiotics, whether in human medicine, veterinary medicine or agriculture. MSU researchers and Extension specialists in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the College of Veterinary Medicine, MSU AgBioResearch and MSU Extension are addressing this cause. They are committed to:

  • Designing and implementing educational programs that promote awareness and understanding of antibiotic resistance among veterinarians, farmers and the public
  • Developing and incorporating new training modules and initiatives on combating antibiotic resistance in collaboration with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services and Veterinary Services
  • Implementing stewardship programs for veterinarians as part of the USDA’s National Veterinary Accreditation Program
  • Developing key messages and pertinent information to inform and educate producers and farmers of the changing landscape for antibiotic use and accessibility in animal agriculture

Bacteria will eventually develop resistance to any new drug. It’s inevitable—but that just means we need to develop lots of new compounds and use them judiciously.”

— James Tiedje, Director of the MSU Center for Microbial Ecology

Leading Change

The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. In addition to human medicine, antibiotics also are commonly used in food animals to prevent, control and treat disease, and to promote growth. MSU is working alongside veterinarians and livestock producers in order to transition toward a new guidance document issued by the FDA. The document aims to eliminate over-the-counter sales of antimicrobials by making livestock producers work with veterinarians in order to receive antibiotics for their animals.

Pharmaceutical companies must also remove any growth enhancement or production enhancement claims from antibiotic product labels. Producers will need to acquire a veterinary feed directive from a veterinarian in order to obtain feed-grade antibiotics for their animals. Ultimately, the FDA wants all antibiotic use under the supervision of veterinarians, who can prescribe them for prevention or therapeutic reasons only.

The veterinary feed directive (VFD) is essentially the same as a prescription in human medicine. A veterinarian will have oversight over the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. He or she will have to write this VFD and can write one only for the prevention or treatment of disease.”

— Daniel Grooms, MSU professor of large animal clinical sciences, President of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners

Embracing “One Health”

“One Health” is a worldwide strategy for expanding interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment. These efforts are accelerating biomedical research discoveries, enhancing public health, expanding scientific knowledge and improving medical education and clinical care. Collaborations like this happen every day at MSU, where multidisciplinary projects are encouraged and supported. Diverse and revered programs offered by the pioneer land-grant university are an asset in addressing issues from agriculture to human medicine to environmental preservation.

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