Antibiotic resistance poses a dire threat in hospitals and communities. To help limit such risk, health care professionals should begin sequencing the DNA of offending bacteria, the White House’s council of science advisors said in a new report. Armed with genome-sequencing technology that enables scientists to glean details about where the infection comes from and to what extent it is related to antibiotic use on farms, policy makers will be better poised to tamp down the threat.
“With traditional methods of characterizing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it was difficult to answer these questions. In the past few years, however, advances in rapid and inexpensive DNA-sequencing technology have made it possible to extract answers from bacterial genomes,” the report said. Genetic differences between bacteria can be used to sketch out a molecular “family tree,” which would allow researchers to trace an outbreak and scour it for telltale similarities or differences. So far, genome analysis has only played a role in a handful of investigations, the report says. To scale that up, the report notes, several steps should be taken: Specialists must cull an initial reference collection of genome sequences from antibiotic-resistant bacteria; there should be a national laboratory network for pathogen surveillance; funding for improved computational methods and tools; and the National Institutes of Health should maintain a publicly available genomic information database.
The report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology was released on September 18 in conjunction with a new executive order that directs certain federal agencies to amp up their efforts to combat antibiotic resistance and a new national strategy to fight resistant bacteria. The White House also announced a $20-million prize for the development of rapid tests to identify antibiotic-resistant infections. The rise of antibiotic resistance is a “top national security and public health priority,” says John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that at least 23,000 people die each year from such infections. The new edicts are designed to help support the council’s recommendations.
The council’s report, first publicly discussed in July when it was not yet finalized, also contains recommendations to create a new federal level interagency group that would be in charge of overseeing progress against antibiotic resistance. The final 65-page report calls for ramping up surveillance of the growth of antibiotic resistance, better stewardship of existing antibiotics and accelerating the development of new antibiotics. The new interagency group will be tasked with creating a five-year action plan for attacking resistance by February 2015 and developing metrics to measure progress.
The White House’s new strategy to help control the growth of antibiotic resistance alongside the other initiatives announced today will help save “thousands” of lives, says CDC Director Tom Frieden.
The report comes some fives months after the World Health Organization concluded that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now present in every part of the world. Overuse of drugs on human patients and farm animals has helped fuel the rise of such drug resistance.