Drug-Resistant Microorganisms in Mexico: The Importance of Developing Antibiotics for Health

Creating medicines and reducing hospitalizations, are among the objectives. The aim is to characterize drug-resistant microorganisms in each entity of the country; monitor hospitals, crops, and livestock. One million 300 thousand people die every year due to diseases caused by superbugs.

Drug-Resistant Microorganisms in Mexico: The Importance of Developing Antibiotics for Health
UNAM promotes project to eradicate superbacteria. Photo by Girl with red hat / Unsplash

In 2019, 1.27 million people died from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, which is why scientists from the Institute of Chemistry, in collaboration with the UNAM Foundation, are conducting research to determine which ones affect Mexicans the most, to design drugs to combat them.

This, according to José Alberto Rivera Chávez, a researcher at the Institute of Chemistry (IQ), who heads the project "Isolation and structural elucidation of natural products of fungal origin with activity for the treatment of DMTII and/or bacterial infections produced by microorganisms resistant to conventional drugs", in the Microbiology Laboratory where research is carried out to sequence the microorganisms to know their weak points.

If we try to eliminate them, the hospitalization time of a patient can be reduced, thus providing better health care. There is a large cultural component that drives us to the irrational use of antibiotics, not only in the general population. It will be difficult, "but if we don't take the first step we will never get there," emphasized the researcher.

To achieve its objectives, the Institute is carrying out a campaign to acquire the sequencing machine that will allow them to carry out research focused on the development of new antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial infections caused by resistant strains.

If the genetic sequence of bacteria were not known, it would be difficult for researchers to focus on those that cause the greatest number of diseases, since each region of the world or each country has particular infectious foci, so university scientists are interested in detecting the most important ones for our country.

The researcher explained that through the University Plan for the Control of Antimicrobial Resistance (PUCRA) of the UNAM, an important effort has been made to characterize resistant microorganisms in different states of the Republic, through monitoring in different hospitals; however, the coverage is less than three percent of the country, so the data does not allow us to have a broad overview of their behavior in Mexico.

Therefore, the donation campaign promoted by the IQ has the objective of obtaining resources and acquiring the infrastructure to have sequencing equipment, with which the knowledge on the subject will be expanded and the work carried out by the PUCRA will be complemented. The project will monitor hospitals and crops; special attention will be paid to livestock and the food produced by this industry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that there are at least six microorganisms of great concern because they are the ones that cause hospital stays to be prolonged and, on numerous occasions, lead to the death of patients. In Mexico, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Escherichia coli are known to be of particular concern.

What diseases they cause depends on the organism, for example in the case of Klebsiella and Pseudomonas the infections are of the respiratory and renal tract. Acinetobacter baumannii can lodge practically anywhere in the human organism and cause all kinds of serious infections that generally lead to death, they are all superbugs, but the latter is practically resistant to most of the drugs currently available.

According to the WHO, an estimated 1.3 million people die each year from diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant microorganisms. It is predicted that by 2050 the number could reach 10 million per year. If compared to the projection for cancer or diabetes, it would exceed the number of deaths associated with these diseases.

"We believe that in five or six years we are going to see the impact of antibiotic medication to treat viral infection. The 2050 estimate could be rushed and come 10 to 15 years earlier, because of the indiscriminate use of antibiotics to treat COVID; the impact will be brutal for this. Unfortunately, social pressure on physicians is driving them to continue to prescribe these types of drugs that should not be used for viral infections. The use of drugs that are not designed for that purpose obviously does not control the disease, but it does contribute significantly to the development of resistance by bacteria," he emphasized.

With the support of Fundación UNAM, the IQ collaborates with experts from the School of Medicine and other entities of the National University to determine the genome of the bacteria; additionally, the monitoring of antibiotics in the national territory will be carried out to review the impact they have on environmental samples.

The most important thing, said Rivera Chavez, will be to correlate both parameters to issue recommendations to regulatory agencies such as the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks or the health sector, to issue alerts on restrictions on the use of certain types of antibiotics in some places.

We will try to implement new diagnostic systems and personalized treatments for patients since each microorganism reacts differently; likewise, antibiotics from other sources, whether natural resources to obtain new molecules or using chemical methods such as organic synthesis. Work will be done to detect the mechanisms used by superbacteria to evade antibiotics, as well as to disseminate information to the medical community and society in general.