The Threat of Superbugs

The drugs we’ve relied on for over 70 years to keep us safe—from small cuts to deadly systemic infections—are becoming less effective.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics, which target multiple types of bacteria at once, are prescribed when more targeted drugs could be used. Or, antibiotics are prescribed for infections that are caused by viruses rather than bacteria, something antibiotics are useless against. In our homes, use of antibacterial products such as soap and cleansers is on the rise. And in the US, 80 percent of antibiotic use is on the farm, to prevent disease and promote growth in livestock.

Every time an antibiotic is used, it kills some, but not all, of the bacteria it targets. The remaining bacteria might mutate to become resistant to the very drugs we use to treat them. This is happening at an increasing rate.

Disease-causing organisms across the world are evolving resistance to the drugs we use to fight them. Malaria, tuberculosis and HIV are three of the deadliest diseases in the world–all have evolved drug-resistant strains. Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, is on the rise, and has a mortality rate of up to 50 percent of those infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here in Chicago, MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria are on the rise in the community and in hospitals. Coping with these new “superbugs”is a problem the world is currently facing, and this problem continues to worsen.

This program, featuring experts on infectious disease, will cover the current state of this crisis, the causes, and possible solutions in development.

Robert S. Daum, M.D. is a nationally and internationally known expert in Pediatric Infectious Diseases with the University of Chicago. In the last 10 years, Dr. Daum has turned his attention to molecular mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance in Staphylococcus aureus. More recently, an epidemic of community-acquired methicillin resistance in Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains circulating in the Chicago area, and, now many locales across the United States and elsewhere in the world has caught the attention of the laboratory. Dr. Daum has been a reviewer for more than a dozen clinical and scientific journals.  He is frequently asked by the NIH and CDC and other agencies to serve on grant review panels related to bacterial infections in children, vaccine delivery and bacterial pathogenesis. Dr. Daum earned his medical degree at McGill University.

Michael Federle, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry. His work investigates chemical communication pathways among bacteria, a process known as quorum sensing, and how microbial social behaviors contribute to health and disease. A long-term goal of the Federle laboratory is to develop methodologies that disrupt bacterial communication and manipulate microbial behavior with the intention of improving health outcomes following bacterial infections. Federle’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the Chicago Biomedical Consortium. He earned his Ph.D. degree from Emory University and trained at Princeton University before joining UIC in 2008.

Scott Franzblau, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognocy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Director of the Institute for Tuberculosis Research. Originally focusing on leprosy, Dr. Franzblau has been studying tuberculosis for over 20 years. His work involves creating new treatments for tuberculosis, some of which are currently in clinical trials. As part of his research, he collaborates with pharmaceutical companies on developing and testing new drugs. Dr. Franzblau has a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Arizona.

Robert A. Weinstein, M.D. is a Professor of Medicine at Rush University Medical College, as well as the former System Chair and Department Chair of Medicine for the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, and Founding Chief Operating Officer of the Ruth M. Rothstein CORE Center for the Prevention, Care, and Research of Infectious Diseases. His clinical and research interests focus on healthcare-acquired infections, particularly those that are resistant to antibiotics. Since 1998, he has worked in collaboration with the CDC, most recently as Principal Investigator for the Chicago Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Prevention Epicenter (C-PIE). He earned his medical degree at Cornell University Medical College.

Moderator: Cristal Thomas, M.P.P. is Vice President for Community Health Engagement at the University of Chicago Medical Center and Senior Advisor to the Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago. Prior to her appointment as Deputy Governor, Cristal served as Region V Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Cristal has a Bachelor of Science in molecular genetics from The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio and a Master’s degree in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago. She will moderate this program.

DETAILS: Tuesday, April 28, Northwestern University, 303 E. Superior St., Baldwin Auditorium, Chicago IL 60611. Doors open at 5:00 pm, social hour with wine and cheese prior to program start. Program runs 6:00 pm –8:00 pm. This program is FREE and open to the public.

Register at parking is available to the first 50 attendees at the 202 E Huron parking garage. Ask at the C2ST registration table, and you can purchase a ticket to exit the garage at a discounted rate.

Can’t join us live? Then join us via live stream, or watch the program at your leisure at a later date on our YouTube channel, C2ST TV. Streaming starts at 6pm

Questions? Contact Andrea Poet at or 312-567-5795.

ABOUT C2ST: Chicago Council on Science and Technology is a not-for-profit, membership-based organization that brings researchers and scientists out of the lab, directly to you. We work with national laboratories, leading academic institutions and museums to educate the public on issues of critical scientific importance. In an age when barely one in four voting adults meet a basic level of scientific literacy, we aim to reignite an excitement and passion for science and technology, and remind Chicagoans of the quality and quantity of R&D that takes place in their backyard.

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