When you look at the history of drug discovery
especially, if you talk about Antibiotics, we haven’t found many of the new drugs
since 1970. Only a few new drugs that just came out in
the market in 2000. The thing about finding new drugs is that
Antibiotics, they are natural products. 90% of them are from bacteria and fungi. To find a totally new structure of chemical
compounds that we can use as a new drug… A computer, even a lot of software, you can’t
come up with that. For example, penicillin itself, you can see
that we have modified it, but still the core structure of penicillin, the computer cannot
know that. You need to go find rare or less studied bacteria,
which will be the source of the drug production. That’s why a lot of us that are in this field,
we like to go into extreme habitats whether it would be deep down, you know, in the ocean
sediment or desert or hot spring or go into different types of caves to find really superheroes,
I would say The types of bacteria or fungi or microorganism
that live in such extreme habitat, that they could potentially have a different and new
metabolic pathway that we haven’t seen before, in the hope that we could find new drugs from
that. Now, you have two camps of bacteria.
The bad bacteria… And then, we have another camp of the type
of bacteria that produce metabolites for us as Antibiotics.
The metabolites can kill the cell wall of the bad bacteria, or it can inhabit DNA replication
or RNA function of the bad bacteria. Now, all of these bad bacteria have gained
so much ability to resist to our existing Antibiotics, so we need to find new Antibiotics.
So basically, my students and I go to the cave.
We collect soil sample or rock sample, and then we take it out back to the lab, and then
we isolate as many as we can in the lab. And then, we ferment them, and see what things
they produce, and then we extract it, to see whether those compounds kill bad bacteria.
And you know what? Thousands of metabolites have been discovered but when you get to the
FDA approval, the, you know, clinical trial (many levels of it), and produce it in the
industrial setting… From my experience, it takes ten to 25 years
to be able to develop one new antibiotic Um, it depends on your standard of danger,
I guess Yeah, I found that caves are mysterious, don’t
you think? It’s like, who actually could live in caves? Where do microorganism that live in the caves
get their nutrients from? Their food from? In the cave, there are lots of mineral deposits
and certain groups of bacteria can actually extract energy from those minerals. When you think about it, we live with bacteria. Bacteria and microorganisms are everywhere. We cannot live without them but don’t you
think that they often get bad press? How many people know that less than one percent
of microorganisms make us sick? That microorganisms make up to about three
pounds of us in an average healthy adult? So we can’t really think about us as an individual
anymore, I’m trying to tell my students, we should think of us as we are a system as well.
As a human species, we try to live in this clean bubble.
We need to be less afraid of bacteria. That’s why I go to caves… Because we do live with them.
We cannot live without them.