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Combating the Antibiotics Crisis with Botanical Medicine: Response to The New York Times


Contribution by Dr. Jeffrey Langland, PhD, professor of research, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

The New York Times Magazine recently published an article—“Could Ancient Remedies Hold the Answer to the Looming Antibiotics Crisis?”—which discusses innovative research and concepts by ethnobotanist, Dr. Cassandra Quave, from Emory University. As mentioned in the article, antibiotic resistant bacteria pose a major threat to human health; some of these bacteria include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), multi-drug resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and the emerging Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Between 1940 and 1962, more than 20 new classes of antibiotics were marketed. Since then, only two new classes have reached the market. Antibiotic analogues were developed to keep pace with the emergence of resistant bacteria, but today, not enough analogues are reaching the market to deal with the overwhelming threat of antibiotic resistance.

As with humans, plants are exposed to various microbial pathogens, including bacteria. However, plants do not have the ability to visit a doctor when they become infected. For these plants to survive, they must have the capability of synthesizing their own antibacterial compounds. The structure of plant bacteria is not that different from human bacteria; therefore, plants offer a new source of novel and natural antibiotics and therapeutics, which may be able to combat the emerging bacterial threats to the human population.  

The use of plants as medicine predates written human history. Plants make up the original source materials for up to 40 percent of pharmaceuticals used in the United States today. Although many pharmaceuticals originate from plants, it is estimated that more than 90 percent of the medicinally active compounds present in plants have yet to be identified.

Dr. Quave and the Center for Integrative Naturopathic Research at SCNM, under the guidance of Dr. Jeffrey Langland, are working on the daunting task of identifying botanicals that could combat the emerging bacterial threat. Students at SCNM work diligently to screen and identify botanical extracts with activity against bacterial pathogens, including MRSA, multi-drug resistant Pseudomonas, and multi-drug resistant Enterococcus. In addition, students are working to identify these botanicals’ mechanisms of action to create therapeutic synergistic blends, which target different aspects of the bacterial structure.

Finally, research evaluating how to improve uptake of botanical antimicrobials by altering biofilm formation or permeabilizing bacterial membranes can improve the efficacy of these therapeutics. With modern scientific methods, we can gain a true understanding of how these botanicals work, which offers new hope for the future of medicine.

Please visit www.scnm.edu/research for more information on SCNM's current research.