Combating Drug Resistance

As dangerous microbes grow more resilient, new approaches are needed to thwart life-threatening infections.

A century ago, infectious diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis were among the top causes of death in the United States. However, the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin in 1928, along with other biomedical innovations and improvements in sanitation, have led to an incredible drop in the frequency and severity of these illnesses. Now, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria threatens to reverse this progress, as drug-resistant infections cause more than two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States every year. 

In response to this growing public health issue, the IRP has invested heavily in research aimed at fighting antibiotic-resistance. IRP investigators are studying the mechanisms by which bacteria become immune to antibiotics, creating methods of tracking the spread of drug-resistant infections, and developing novel compounds that kill dangerous microbes in new ways. Among other achievements, this work has led to the discovery of an effective treatment for drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis; the identification of a genetic mutation and related molecular mechanism that makes malaria parasites resistant to artemisinin, the primary treatment for the disease; and the creation of a new method of rapidly assessing large numbers of drugs for their ability to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The IRP is uniquely situated to make progress towards expanding the supply of effective antibiotic treatments due to the long-term, stable funding required by this high-risk, high-reward research. Our scientists are currently working towards that goal by:

  • Expanding our understanding of the bacterial immune system and the means by which organisms develop antibiotic resistance
  • Using whole-genome sequencing to track the spread of drug-resistant microbes through populations
  • Discovering novel drug targets via analyzing the DNA and physiology of antibiotic-resistant pathogens
  • Screening thousands of synthetic and natural compounds to identify those with antibiotic properties
  • Creating fast, highly sensitive, and low-cost methods of sequencing the genomes of drug-resistant organisms to facilitate the use of targeted treatments rather than broad-spectrum antibiotics

Explore these pages for more information about the past, present, and future of IRP research on antibiotic resistance: 

Check out all 12 of the domains in which we are Accelerating Science to learn about how IRP scientists are tackling important biomedical challenges.