Antimicrobial (Drug) Resistance

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and a dead human neutrophil
Credit: NIAID

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus during interaction with a human neutrophil

Microbes, collectively, include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. For the past 70 years, antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, have been successfully used to treat patients with bacterial and infectious diseases.

Why Is the Study of Antimicrobial (Drug) Resistance a Priority for NIAID?

Over time, many infectious organisms have adapted to the drugs designed to kill them, making the products less effective. Because most bacteria, viruses, and other microbes multiply rapidly, they can quickly evolve and develop resistance to antimicrobial drugs. Overusing or misusing antimicrobial drugs can make resistance develop even faster.

How Is NIAID Addressing This Critical Topic?

To address this growing problem, NIAID is funding and conducting research on many aspects of antimicrobial (drug) resistance, including basic research on how microbes develop resistance, new and faster diagnostics, and clinical trials designed to find new vaccines and treatments effective against drug-resistant microbes.

Examples of Antimicrobial Resistance

NIAID is sponsoring and conducting research on several diseases that have developed resistance to antimicrobial drug treatment. 

Research Goals

NIAID manages a research portfolio of grants specifically aimed at the problem of antimicrobial resistance and hospital-acquired infections.

Antimicrobial Research Program

Research on antimicrobial resistance, including antibacterial resistance, is a priority area for NIAID. In 2014, the Institute issued its report "NIAID’s Antibacterial Research Program: Current Status and Future Directions" to describe the Institute’s research portfolio and outline a combination of innovative approaches based on the latest scientific advances to be pursued.

Basic Research

NIAID invests in basic research to understand the biology of microbes, their behavior, and how drug resistance develops. Understanding precisely how microbes cause disease (the process called pathogenesis) is also crucial for finding new ways to combat them.

Translating Basic Knowledge

Scientific discovery begins with basic research in the laboratory at "the bench." To improve human health, however, these discoveries must be translated into practical applications that reach the patient's "bedside." NIAID-supported research in antimicrobial (drug) resistance helps facilitate this translation of basic research discoveries from "bench to bedside."


NIAID laboratories are at the forefront of basic, translational, and clinical research on antimicrobial resistance. Focusing on emerging public health threats such as drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, tuberculosis, and malaria, NIAID researchers seek to understand the fundamental causes of resistance.

Clinical Research

Clinical research projects related to antibacterial resistance (AR) focus on a variety of approaches, including evaluating the safety and effectiveness of new antimicrobial therapeutics, and developing novel prevention strategies.

Content last reviewed on July 11, 2016