Dr. Issmat Kassem, assistant professor of food microbiology and safety, is part of a multiyear study focused on increased resistance to antibiotics in the presence of the mobile colistin resistance (MCR) gene, increasingly prevalent in refugee camps across Lebanon because of unsanitary living conditions and dirty water. The MCR genes become resistant to colistin, a ‘last resort’ antibiotic used to treat infection. This growing presence of the MCR gene means that families are at severe risk of further complications because their bodies resist the antibiotic. Illness and disease tend to be more prevalent in over-crowded places, like refugee camps. Thus, Dr. Kassem’s research focuses on those camps that suffer from bad infrastructure or poor access to clean water. Research outcomes indicate the presence of the MCR gene in the camps and in domestic water supplies, putting everyone, especially children, elderly, and the sick, at a severe risk of disease. Resistance to antibiotics results in life-threatening risk of urinary, respiratory, and wound infection. Pollution is another great risk factor in the camps: it affects the refugees and is easily transferred to the broader population of Lebanon.
Dr. Kassem stresses the critical need to address this very significant, humanitarian problem by providing the refugee camps with improved infrastructure and better access to safe, clean water. The investigators hope to use the outcomes of this research to heighten awareness of the conditions in refugee camps, and to develop new antibiotics using an independent and cost effective approach to improve public health and reduce the economic burden of these illnesses.