MRC announces cross-council awards worth nearly £10m to tackle antibiotic resistance
19 May 2016
Three large collaborative grants, totalling £9.5m, have been announced by the MRC as part of a cross-council initiative to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The awards together mark one of the biggest investments into AMR since the initiative launched and will use new technology to exploit natural compounds, develop a tool to offer better and faster diagnostics and explore how the body’s own immune system can be boosted to fight infection.
AMR is a significant and growing challenge. The world is facing an increase in the number and type of bacteria resistant to antibiotics alongside stagnation in the development of new antibiotics or viable alternatives. It is clear that an interdisciplinary approach at a global level is needed to tackle the challenge if we are to save millions of lives being lost as a result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The MRC has been working with the other research councils that form Research Councils UK to identify research opportunities that cross disciplines to help tackle the rise in AMR.
The latest round of awards has been funded by the MRC, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the AMR cross-council initiative, established in 2014 as part of a strategic and co-ordinated effort to address the growing problem head on.
Dr Jonathan Pearce, head of infections and immunity at the MRC, said: “If the antibiotics that we rely on to protect us after common surgery like caesareans, joint replacements, chemotherapy and transplant surgery, don’t work, it’s going to have a catastrophic effect on our healthcare system. That’s why it’s so important we continue to invest in research into AMR.
“There is undoubtedly an urgent need to develop new antibiotics but tackling the issue of AMR is about much more. We need to be imaginative and look at what alternatives there are to antibiotic use, and to do this successfully we need to work in partnership. These awards are a concrete example of what the MRC in collaboration with the other research councils is doing across a wide range of disciplines to fight AMR.”
Exploring nature’s silent pharmacy
Dr Andrew Bailey at the University of Bristol
Fungi have proved to be an important source of antibiotics in the past, with the very first antibiotic, penicillin, derived from fungi in 1941. This project will use new technologies to revisit old compounds with the hope of discovering potential benefits previously overlooked. The latest computing methods will allow researchers to sequence the entire genome of a fungus not possible before with traditional drug discovery methods. This could lead to a wide range of undiscovered natural compounds that, if found to be bioactive, could lead to much-needed new types of antibiotics.
Accelerating development of infection diagnostics for patient management and reduction of antibiotic misuse
Professor Christoph Wälti at the University of Leeds
Rapid diagnostic tools are urgently needed to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics. This project will develop a new tool that can be used by doctors to detect the presence of a bacterial or viral infection quickly before antibiotics are prescribed. The test will also be able to tell which bacterial strain has caused the infection, as different strains require different treatments, and whether the particular type is commonly resistant to antibiotics. This will allow for a much more targeted use of antibiotics, reducing the number of prescriptions and increasing efficacy for patients.
Optimising innate host defence to combat AMR
Professor David Dockrell at the University of Sheffield
The human body regularly fights bacteria without any problems. This is because blood cells circulating in our immune system, called macrophages and neutrophils, fight the first signs of infection in the body by recognising and destroying the bacteria. This project seeks to increase our understanding of exactly how these immune cells work so that we can maximise the ability of the cells to not only destroy bacteria but also save healthy tissue. If the researchers can identify what genes within these cells are the most important in killing bacteria, it could lead them to develop medicines that can re-engage and enhance this vital process when they fail.