International symposium in Boston targets drug resistance

October 11, 2011 — Scientists from around the globe gathered in Boston this month to discuss the enduring problem of diseases like tuberculosis, gonorrhea, malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other infectious diseases that have been treated for decades but are becoming increasingly drug-resistant.

The issue of drug resistance was front and center for 120 scientists from around the globe who attended Harvard School of Public Health’s (HSPH) Second Annual Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics (CCDD) Symposium, organized by Marc Lipsitch, program chair, professor of epidemiology at HSPH, and CCDD director. The CCDD is a center of excellence funded by the MIDAS program of the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences and is located in HSPH’s Department of Epidemiology.

The conference, entitled “Antimicrobial Resistance: Biology, Population Dynamics and Policy Options,” was held October 3-4, 2011, at Boston University’s George Sherman Union. The event was co-sponsored by the Boston University School of Law. Kevin Outterson, associate professor of law at Boston University and Boston University School of Public Health, was co-chair.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports 5% to10% of all hospital patients develop an infection, boosting U.S. healthcare costs by about $5 billion annually. About 90,000 of these patients die from these infections each year, up from 13,300 patient deaths in 1992. In addition, many infectious diseases are increasingly difficult to treat because of antimicrobial-resistant organisms, including HIV infection, staphylococcal infection, tuberculosis, influenza, gonorrhea, Candida infection, and malaria.

“We want to make antimicrobials (drugs or substances that inhibit growth of a microorganism) to help us reduce the burden of disease and its duration and its severity, and we want that to continue (doing so) for a long time,” Lipsitch said Oct. 3 in his opening address. He said conference topics would include why some drug-resistant bugs have not “taken over the world,” why some countries have higher rates of drug-resistance than others, and how surveillance and monitoring can be used to develop more precise drug prescribing recommendations.

Other HSPH presenters included Ted Cohen, assistant professor in the Department of  Epidemiology, who discussed “Surveillance for Drug-Resistance in TB and HIV: Current Strategies and Innovative Approaches,” and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, whose topic was “Determinants of Strain Success.”

–Marge Dwyer

Learn more

“When Infection Won’t Quit” (Harvard Public Health Review)

“TB Superstains” (Harvard Public Health Review)