Published: 18 November 2014

Tackling antibiotic resistance

To mark Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November, Professor Roberto La Ragione, Head of the Department of Pathology and Infectious Diseases at the School of Veterinary Medicine, explains why antibiotic resistance is a growing problem and how Surrey researchers are working to solve it.

Since the 1940s antimicrobials – such as antibiotics, antivirals, antiparasitics, antifungals and disinfectants – have allowed for extraordinary improvements in both human and veterinary medicine.

However, this progress is now under threat as bacteria, fungi, virus and parasite-causing infections in animals and humans develop resistance to the antimicrobial medicines that used to be effective against them. With common treatments becoming ineffective, infections persist for longer periods, become more severe or have an increased chance of spreading – giving rise to so-called superbugs.

Learn more about Antibiotic Awareness Day.

What is antimicrobial resistance and why is it happening?

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a natural phenomenon that occurs when microorganisms replicate themselves erroneously or when resistant traits (for example, resistance genes) are exchanged between them. It can spread from one microorganism to another through the exchange of genetic material (DNA). 

The use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs in both humans and animals (where they're used to treat sickness and protect against stress during transportation or other conditions, or as growth promoters in some non-EU countries) may also accelerate the emergence of antimicrobial resistant strains. This can occur when, for example, antibiotic use results in mutations in the microorganism’s DNA, which then leads to the development of resistance.

Animals can harbour resistant microorganisms in the same way as humans, so infections passed from animals to humans or vice versa may result in the spread of antimicrobial resistance.  Poor infection control measures and inappropriate food-handling may also contribute. 

What’s the solution?

The emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance can be reduced through the sensible use of antimicrobials. This includes responsible prescribing by medical and veterinary professionals and legislation to control access to them. Public awareness of the problem is also vital to ensure that antimicrobials are used appropriately, for example, ensuring patients follow advice to complete their course of antibiotics.

Surrey research

At Surrey, we’re tackling antibiotic resistance head-on, with research focussed on:

  1. Understanding how antibiotic resistance is spread from one bacterium to another
  2. Investigating how antibiotic resistance can contribute to how bacteria cause disease
  3. Understanding how bacteria develop antimicrobial resistance and how it can be controlled
  4. Developing alternatives to antibiotics for use in animals and humans
  5. Developing rapid diagnostics to detect antibiotic resistance

The work could lead to the development of new, more effective treatments to beat infections which may improve both human and animal health.

Discover our Infectious Diseases Research Group and programmes in the field of Biosciences and Medicine and Veterinary Medicine & Science.

Sign up to become an antibiotic guardian and learn more about the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, a group of health, medical and environmental organisations working to stop the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming.

Research papers

1. Sequence analysis of a CTX-M-1 IncI1 plasmid found in Salmonella 4,5,12:i:-, Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae on a UK pig farm

Microarray based comparative genotyping of gentamicin resistant Escherichia coli strains from food animals and humans

Antimicrobial resistance changes in enteric Escherichia coli of horses during hospitalisation: resistance profiling of isolates

2. Impact of antibiotics on the intestinal microbiota and on the treatment of Shiga-toxin-producing Escherichia coli and Salmonella infections

3. Fluoroquinolone efflux in Streptococcus suis is mediated by SatAB and not by SmrA

4. Oral treatment of chickens with Lactobacillus reuteri LM1 reduces Brachyspira pilosicoli-induced pathology

Lactulose and Lactobacillus plantarum, a potential complementary synbiotic to control postweaning colibacillosis in piglets

Response of porcine intestinal in vitro organ culture tissues following exposure to Lactobacillus plantarum JC1 and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium SL1344

In vitro fermentation of carbohydrates by porcine faecal inocula and their influence on Salmonella Typhimurium growth in batch culture systems

In vivo characterization of Lactobacillus johnsonii FI9785 for use as a defined competitive exclusion agent against bacterial pathogens in poultry

A mixture containing galactooligosaccharide, produced by the enzymic activity of Bifidobacterium bifidum, reduces Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium infection in mice

5. Design and application of a loop-mediated isothermal amplification assay for the rapid detection of Staphylococcus pseudintermedius

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