Infectious diseases kill. During the middle ages, over 25 million Europeans died from a mysterious plague known as the Black Death. The influenza pandemic of 1918 claimed an estimated 50 million victims. Malaria, a disease that has caused more deaths than any other illness in history, still kills 1.5 to 2.7 million people annually – and another child every thirty seconds.
Despite intensive efforts, science has not yet found a way to stop infectious disease. This is because the microorganisms that carry infection are moving targets, constantly evolving and becoming impervious to existing medications. Misuse of antibiotics is adding to the problem, with incomplete treatments killing only the most susceptible bacteria while helping the most drug-resistant strains to achieve dominance.
Another serious issue is clinical treatment. Viruses wreak their havoc by integrating into cells and taking over their genetic machinery. Parasites are similar in many ways to the cells they attack. As a result, drugs designed to fight these invaders frequently damage healthy tissues as well.
At Bar-Ilan University, scientists from a wide range of disciplines are working together to forge a better understanding of infectious diseases and to create a new “toolkit” for clinical treatment. Partnering with colleagues trained in nanotechnology, materials science and computers, Bar-Ilan’s bacteriologists, virologists and parasitologists are creating new strategies for “cornering and conquering” the agents of infection.