The enemy is everywhere. Trillions of them surround you, invisible, intangible, their mere existence quite capable of killing you. You have defenses, but they can avoid or destroy those defenses and work their will upon your body. From bacteria and viruses, there is no escape. Throughout human history, we have been at war with them… the front lines our very bodies. It is a war we are not winning.
We have developed few effective tactics against them. Our oldest tactic, sterilization, was first used circa 3000 B.C. when the Egyptians used antiseptics such as pitch and tar in the creation of their mummies. The next five thousand years saw considerable development in this process of killing bacteria, and today surgical instruments are sterilized using steam and ionized gasses (1, 2). Almost as old, systems of sanitation are similar to sterilization, in that they reduce or eliminate exposure to potentially dangerous bacteria. In short supply however, have been tactics to combat infectious disease after the bacteria have already gained a foothold have been in short supply through most of human history. Once infected, we could only sit back and hope the body’s immune system would take care of the problem. That all changed in 1928 when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic. An infected person could be given penicillin, and the drug would kill the bacteria in the body, removing the infection (3). Finally, after 5000 years of war, a truly effective tactic had been discovered.
In 1943 companies began mass-producing penicillin to treat bacterial infection. Less than four years later, the first resistant strains were discovered (4). We developed different antibiotics, and the bacteria adapted. Today there are strains of bacteria that we cannot kill. They have adapted past all of our antibiotics. One bacterial strain developed resistance against our most recent antibiotic, Zyvox, less than a year after its release. There are so many bacteria, and they evolve so rapidly, that they will develop defenses to any chemical attack we make. Bacteria have even been known to develop resistance to bleach and other harsh chemicals (6). They are faster than we are. While we can slow them down through more responsible use of our antibiotics, if we do not change our approach, we will lose.
There are two significant alternate approaches we could use to target and kill bacteria. One potential alternate approach to the treatment of infectious disease is utilizing monoclonal antibodies to supplement our own immune systems. Monoclonal antibodies are pure cultures of antibodies (the body’s primary foreign substance detection molecules) artificially produced to react to a single specific substance or protein. By utilizing monoclonal antibodies to treat bacterial infection, we would be flagging the bacteria for the body’s immune system to come kill them. As the body already flags...