"It will affect everyone": the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance

Professor Baker (photo by Lloyd Mann)

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has become one of the greatest threats to humanity, says Professor Stephen Baker, Wolfson Fellow and Director of Research in the Department of Medicine.

Professor Baker (photo by Lloyd Mann)

In a new profile, released today as part of the University’s This Cambridge Life series, Professor Baker - who is also a Wellcome Senior Research Fellow - paints a disarming picture about a threat that has yet to inspire organised effort to combat it.

“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a worldwide challenge that is estimated to kill 10 million per year by 2050 unless we find ways of stopping its progression,” he says. “It will affect everyone. We’re not far off the position where conditions for which you’d go into hospital for will no longer be able to be treated with any available antibiotics.

“As shown by SARS-Cov2, infectious diseases do not respect borders. We can import them easily on our person and transmit them to other people. If we develop chemicals to kill these organisms, they will develop resistance – this is a natural phenomenon.

The biggest issue currently, he says, is that there simply isn’t any coherent preventative action:

“I would suggest that the magnitude of the problem and the way it’s being handled is very similar to climate change,” says Professor Baker. “People know this has the potential to be devastating to humanity in the coming years, but they can’t quite get organised to work out what should be done about it.

“And yet AMR is a process that can be slowed down. We can do this by using antibiotics less, by using different varieties of antibiotics and by mixing things up. This will buy us some time.

“Antibiotics are a 20th-century technology that have served us well, but we need to think: “what’s next?”. In the long term we need to gain a greater understanding of how we can prevent AMR, develop new ways to kill microorganisms and come up with better strategies to prevent disease. We need to see investment to accelerate these research programmes."

You can read the full interview from This Cambridge Life on the University website

You can read Professor Baker's profile in the People section of our website.