Biology professor and active researcher Margaret “Peg” Riley is an expert in the evolution of microbial resistance and a member of the board of directors of the Boston-based global non-governmental organization Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA). It has called for aggressive action to promote development of new antibiotics and rapid diagnostic tests for resistant bacteria.
As Riley points out, antibiotics are some of the most commonly prescribed medicines in the world, and overuse and misuse are the most important factors leading to antibiotic resistance, Riley points out. She and APUA say that antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s greatest health threats, pointing out that the Centers for Disease Control estimates that every year at least 2 million people are infected with drug-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result.
As she explains, antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic has lost its ability to control or kill bacterial growth. The bacteria become “resistant” and continue to multiply even during antibiotic treatment. Not only do physicians lose an important weapon in disease control, but patients are more vulnerable to secondary infections, infections often last longer, cause more severe illness, require more doctor visits or long hospital stays and can involve more expensive and toxic medications.
Antibiotics now in use generally take a “shotgun approach,” Riley says, which targets healthy bacteria needed for good health as well as harmful bacteria. This can do more harm than good, especially for children who may have long-term microbiome damage, she adds.
She and others have experimental evidence that a more targeted and promising approach is possible because they have seen that bacteria have the ability to produce their own “chemical weapons” to attack enemy bacteria without hurting beneficial ones.
APUA was one of the very first organizations devoted to informing the public of the dangers of antibiotic overuse and abuse and has been a key player in efforts to extend the lifespan of these life-saving drugs.
Margaret "Peg" Riley Professor of Biology
The focus of Peg Riley's research is in the area of microbial evolution - namely antimicrobial resistance evolution - and drug development.