Keeping Superbugs in Check: Addressing Antibiotic Overuse with the Help of an ELN


Is this the end of antibiotics or will scientists using an ELN help us find more?
Due to over-prescription of antibiotics, superbugs are a potential threat to medicine.
Image source: National Cancer Institute via

Antibiotics have become one of the foundations of Western medicine because of their cost, their  scaleability and their effectiveness. However, recent reports from the Center for Disease Control, as well as British researchers from Cardiff University, have sounded the ominous alarm that antibiotics are no longer as effective. Will the lack of efficient antibiotics plunge humanity back into the Dark Ages?

History of Antibiotics

Like all great discoveries, the discovery of penicillin occurred by accident. On the morning of September 3, 1928, Alexander Fleming was cleaning some glass plates coated with staphylococcus bacteria when he noticed that one of the plates had mold on it. He also noted that the bacteria around the mold appeared to have been killed. He theorized that something within the mold must have killed the bacteria.

However, it wasn’t until 10 years later, when Howard Florey and Ernst Chain managed to isolated penicillin as the reason for Fleming’s discovery that antibiotics really took off. Their first real use on a large scale was with the Allies’ side during the battle of D-Day, where they were so effective at killing bacteria that they were nicknamed “the wonder drug.”

Too Much of a Good Thing

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the “wonder drug” eventually led to doctors over-prescribing them for all kinds of bacterial infections. As the drugs were used too much, bacteria began to evolve and “superbugs” began to emerge.

Superbugs are a real threat to human health, because our current systems of antibiotics are ineffective against them. As said by David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, “superbugs could push medicine back to the dark ages.”

Hope on the Horizon

Thankfully, doctors and pharmaceutical laboratories are not waiting around to find out what happens when our current antibiotics become ineffective. According to research conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, at least 38 new antibiotics are in development. These drugs have the potential to address many, but not all, of the resistant bacteria. However, many of these will not be able to clear regulatory hurdles, and the threat of superbugs overwhelming medicine is still very real.

Planning for the Future

The Pew report also lists a number of issues and policies that need to be addressed in order to successfully fight superbugs. These include changes to regulatory policy, and even a new approach to drug development. Additionally, I would like to suggest using an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) to support antibiotic research.

The benefits of an ELN include the ability to collaborate with researchers around the globe through functionality that facilitates sharing. ELNs ensure that all of the data is kept in a single repository where everyone can access and add to it. If Fleming, Florey and Chain had ELN collaboration tools with the ability to share research notes, it might not have taken 10 years to isolate penicillin.

ELNs also provide additional analytical tools so that data manipulations occur within the same environment. Data manipulations can also be programmed to automatically run when new data is saved within the database. This will help today’s researchers reduce the antibiotic discovery cycle time.

Taking Steps Today for Future Health

The first antibiotics were discovered by researchers who used paper laboratory notebooks. To keep up with the growth of superbugs, the next set of antibiotics will have to be developed using modern tools, like an ELN, in order to increase collaboration and speed of discovery.

For more information on how the BIOVIA Notebook can help your laboratory efficiently move forward with pharmaceutical research, please visit our website today.

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