Statement from Dr. Marc Ouellette on World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2015

Did you know?

The theme of World Antibiotic Awareness Week is “Antibiotics: Handle with Care.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Nov. 16-22 the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week. This is a time to spare a thought for a major challenge facing the health community: the emergence of disease-causing microbes that have become resistant to once-effective treatments like antibiotics. Each year in Canada, 18,000 hospital patients acquire infections that are resistant to treatment. The hospital costs of treating patients with MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) alone are as high as $59 million per year. Complications from microbes like C. difficile can be fatal.

Despite the seriousness of the problem, the WHO’s decision to devote a week to antibiotic awareness encourages me for two reasons. First, as a scientist who has spent over 25 years studying antimicrobial resistance, I am naturally passionate about this topic. The second reason is that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is a world leader in the field of antimicrobial resistance.

Since 2009-10, CIHR has invested over $93 million to better understand how microbes become resistant to treatment and what can be done about it. Study topics have ranged from the microbial contamination of food and water and new alternatives to antibiotics to investigating how microbes can be spread from farm animals to people.

CIHR-funded researchers are making great progress. Some examples of exciting work in the field of antimicrobial resistance include:

  • The work of the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Natalie Strynadka. I encourage you to read about her search to develop drugs to break down the cell walls of bacteria.
  • McMaster University’s Dr. Eric Brown is attempting to better understand – and ultimately disrupt – bacterial survival strategies.
  • Dr. Roger Levesque, from Université Laval, is studying how to use antibiotic-sensitive biofilms – thin, slimy films of bacteria – to reduce bacteria’s ability to cause disease.

As well, CIHR is committed to continuing to fund research in antimicrobial resistance:

  • Starting in 2016-17 and ongoing after that, CIHR will invest $2 million per year to better understand and treat antimicrobial infections.
  • Canada has joined 21 other countries as part of the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR), a group of agencies that are funding researchers from around the world who are studying new approaches to overcoming antimicrobial resistance. CIHR has invested $4 million in this research.
  • Also as part of the Joint Programming Initiative, Canada is joining a consortium of 17 countries that seeks to unravel the science behind antimicrobial resistance and develop new therapies to prevent and treat antibiotic-resistant infections. CIHR has committed $3.6 million to this initiative.

CIHR-funded researchers have made and continue to make meaningful contributions to the study of antimicrobial resistance. This life-saving research would not be possible without the close collaboration of partners like the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, the UK’s Medical Research Council and other partners on both sides of the Atlantic.

Marc Ouellette, PhD
Scientific Director
CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity

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