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Published: 10 October 2017

Tackling the threat of antimicrobial resistance

A two-year project focusing on the growing levels of resistance to antibiotics has resulted in a number of cross-disciplinary research projects to tackle the issue head-on.

A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) last month raised concerns about the serious lack of new antibiotics under development to combat the serious threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The report found very few potential treatment options for those antibiotic-resistant infections identified by WHO as posing the greatest threat to health, including drug-resistant tuberculosis which kills around 250 000 people each year.

WHO has also identified 12 classes of priority pathogens – some of them causing common infections such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections – that are increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics and urgently in need of new treatments.

The Surrey project, called CHAIR (Collaborative Hub for Advancing Interdisciplinary Research) and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, aimed to develop novel strategies to detect and mitigate the emergence of AMR in infectious diseases that are spread between animals and people. Another main objective was to create and support cross-disciplinary networks that together can address the global challenges facing us.

Researchers working with teams from across the University, including biologists, veterinary scientists and engineering and physical scientists, have collaborated on a number of exciting research areas:

  • Understanding the interaction of bacteria and (biological) surfaces and how to modify those to prevent bacteria formation

  • Investigating medical data to understand more about how antibiotic resistance is spread

  • Enhancing antibiotic stewardship by modelling drug delivery and improve on diagnostics

  • Using computation modelling to understand more about bacteria.

The CHAIR project’s final event was a keynote lecture by Lord O’Neill of Gatley, a well-known economist and Surrey graduate who chaired the 2016 the Government’s Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

In the report Lord O’Neill said: “It is now clear to me, as it has been to scientific experts for a long time, that tackling AMR is absolutely essential. It needs to be seen as the economic and security threat that it is, and be at the forefront of the minds of heads of state, finance ministers, agriculture ministers, and of course health ministers, for years to come.

“Although AMR is a massive challenge, it is one that I believe is well within our ability to tackle effectively. The human and economic costs compel us to act: if we fail to do so, the brunt of these will be borne by our children and grandchildren, and felt most keenly in the poorest parts of the world.”

Project member Dr Konstanze Hild, said “The project has successfully established networks of researchers from different disciplines who have achieved preliminary results in the antimicrobial resistance challenge. Next steps for this network are to continue and gain more funding in this new established research areas and help drive the university’s Innovation for Health agenda forward.”