Described as one of the three greatest threats to human health by the World Health Organisation, antibiotic resistance is just one aspect of the University’s fighting infection research.
Professor Laura Piddock, president of the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, leads the Antibiotic Action initiative and has been lobbying the British Government and opposition party politicians to find solutions to the lack of discovery, research and development of new drugs.
‘An estimated 25,000 people die each year in the European Union from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and many infections are due to multidrug resistant (MDR) Gram negative bacteria,’ she says.
‘Bacteria are able to share DNA and because of the frequent use of some antibiotics, resistance genes on the DNA spread very quickly. This means increasing numbers of bacteria such as E.coli are becoming MDR. These infect not just patients with serious medical conditions but ordinary people in the community.
‘For example, a woman who develops an MDR bacterial urinary tract infection could develop a “bacteraemia” [the presence of bacteria in the blood], a life-threatening infection, for which there are limited choices for treatment.
‘There have never been many drugs available to treat Gram negative bacteria and the reason for that is they have very good export mechanisms – as soon as a drug gets in it is pumped out. In my lab we’re trying to understand how we can turn that system off or inhibit it as a basis for new drug development.
‘The prudent use of antibiotics, called antibiotic stewardship, is another issue. Only now, in the 21st century do we understand the fundamental biology of antibiotic resistance and start to put treatment strategies in place to minimise the risk. Furthermore, while we’re waiting for new drugs to be developed, doctors and scientists are re-investigating older drugs and whether they can be used more strategically.’