New Horizons in Science

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A call for radically new tactics on the evolutionary battlefield of medicine

Topic: Biology: Molecular/cellular
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and a dead human neutrophil. Image: NIAID (CC BY-SA 2.0)
MRSA virus and a dead human neutrophil. Image: NIAID (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Sunday, October 27, 2019 -
8:45am to 10:00am

Do we need more cancer drugs and antibiotics? Andrew Read isn't sure new drug development is the weapon needed for victory on the battlefields of cancer and infectious disease. As an evolutionary biologist, he sees both challenges as arms races where populations of cells raid their storehouses of genetic variation to evolve resistance. The strongest cancer drugs, by rapidly killing weaker tumor cells, are almost certainly accelerating evolution and leaving the most adept, resistant cells behind. Meanwhile some researchers are looking into using "anti-antibiotic" drugs to prevent the growth of resistant gut bacteria in hospitals treating drug-resistant infections. And the vaccines now being developed for tough diseases — malaria, HIV and typhoid fever — will probably not stop transmission, risking a new era of pathogen evolution. Read, who also works on diseases in agricultural animals — the Ground Zero of the resistance wars — says It may be time for a radical strategic rethinking. Imaginative tuning, timing and combining doses of existing drugs may be the best way to win evolutionary battles.


Image: NIAID (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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