All posts by Lucy Ingham

WHO: Antibiotic resistance is now a major threat to public health

If immediate action is not taken, we risk falling into a post-antibiotic era where everyday infections and injuries can kill once again, according to a report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“This serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country,” said WHO in a media announcement.

This is the first time that the organization, which is the United Nation’s primary body for international public health, has looked at antimicrobial, and therefore antibiotic, resistance on a global scale, and the results are damning.

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” said WHO’s assistant director-general for health security Dr Keiji Fukuda.


Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern, as bacteria can rapidly evolve to become resistant to over-used treatments. While the over-use of certain drugs is partly to blame, the increasing use of antibiotics in animals intended for human consumption has also played a part.

The report found that resistance to carbapenem antibiotics, used as last-resort treatments when no other antibacterial medicine has worked, has spread worldwide. This is caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria, which is behind many hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia.

Other specific widespread resistances include a treatment for E. coli, which has gone from having a resistance level of zero in the 1980s to over 50% in some parts of the world.

There’s bad news too for condom forgetters everywhere; the last-resort treatment for gonorrhoea has been confirmed as treatment failure in ten countries, including Australia, the UK and Canada, and WHO warns that 1 million people get infected every single day.

“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine,” explained Fukuda.

“Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”


Concerningly, WHO reports that basic tools in the fight against antibiotic resistance are missing in many parts of the world. The organization believes that “ every country and individual needs to do more”, and is using the report to initiate a global fight against the issue.

For normal people, WHO is reminding people to only use antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor, always complete the full prescription no matter how well you feel and never use leftover or shared prescriptions.

Health workers are asked to enhance infection control and prevention, hold back on prescribing unless absolutely necessary and only prescribe the right antibiotics for the illness.

Governments, however, are being asked to pony up for better laboratories and resistance tracking facilities, promote appropriate medicine use and fund the research and development of tools to fight antibiotic resistance.

In Pictures: NASA Technologies in the Wild

NASA, the US space agency, has undertaken a phenomenal amount of research at a host of institutions to further its work in space.

However, a remarkable number of technologies have sprung out of NASA research that have found their way into other applications. So many, in fact, that NASA produces an annual report of when its technologies have ended up.

This year’s report, entitled Spinoff 2013, was released yesterday, and includes examples in everything from health and safety to transportation and energy.

Here we highlight some of the latest products and innovations made with NASA technology.

ICON A5 Aircraft


NASA technology has contributed to the development of spin-resistant aircraft, such as the ICON A5. NASA undertook 8,000 stall-spins in special test aircraft to develop the spin-resistance standards for the Federal Aviation Administration, the US’ flight regulators. The ICON A5 has been designed to meet these standards for consumer recreational flying.

“We wanted to design a plane that was spin-resistant,” said Kirk Hawkins, founder and CEO of ICON. “If it wasn’t for the NASA work, there would be no FAA standard, and we wouldn’t have done this.”

Image courtesy of ICON Aircraft.

 Helpful Robots


The development of the International Space Station’s robotic crew member, Robonaut, at its successor, Robonaut 2, at Johnson Space Center resulted in the development of robot reasoning and interaction technology. This has been reworked for use in fields including warehousing and mining by Universal Robotics in the form of a technology called Neocortex.

“We found there might be some really good approaches for teaching robots and letting them learn and develop capabilities on their own, rather than having to hard program everything,” said Johnson Space Center automation and robotics engineer Robert Ambrose.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Airocide Air Purifier


Through Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA funded the University of Madison-Wisconsin to develop ethylene scrubbers that were designed to keep food fresh in space. But the technology has been developed for another use here on earth by Akida Holdings – as an airborne pathogen-killing air purifier that you can have in your home.

“In two days, you’ll notice how the bedroom just feels different. And as you get the chance to breathe in the air, you’ll start feeling better physically. You’re going to wake up feeling refreshed,” said Akida Holdings vice president Barney Freedman.

Image courtesy of Airocide.

High-Tech Workwear


The technology designed to keep astronauts’ gloves at a comfortable temperature has been appropriated for temperature-responsive clothing that can remove moisture and control odours and bacterial growth. The Apollo shirt from Ministry of Supply is one of a range of clothes using phase-changing materials to keep you smart but comfy throughout the day. The company, which is co-founded by NASA glove designer Gihan Amarasiriwardena, funded Apollo through Kickstarter, raising $430,000 in the process.

“We are different from the rest of the fashion industry because we are not about releasing new products every season. We are about putting a lot of thought, engineering, and great design into each garment before we launch it,” says Amarasiriwardena. “It’s performance wear designed to be office-wear appropriate.”

Image courtesy of Ministry of Supply.

Remote Control


The Kennedy Space Center collaborated with spacecraft software engineers Blue Sun Enterprises to develop improvements to virtual machine language (VML), which is used to control remote devices such as unmanned or manned spacecraft. After proving itself on the RESOLVE mission, the technology has spread to use in commercial applications, and can be used to improve control of weather balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, and submarines.

“Any application that requires remote autonomy could use VML to implement that autonomy and decision-making,” said VML author Dr Chris Grasso.