08:14pm Sunday 17 November 2019

Scientists at the forefront of fighting superbugs

Experts in the North East will work with leading academics throughout the country to tackle the growing threat of superbugs as part of a co-ordinated effort to fight their prevalence and ensure treatments continue to work.
More than £3m has been awarded to the UK team by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), marking one of the largest UK public grant investments in antibiotic resistance.
The problem of antibiotic resistance has become a global health issue and Newcastle University will get approximately £1m of the funding to help investigate a vital link in the chain of antimicrobial resistance – the bacterial cell wall. The main component of the wall is called peptidoglycan, which is the key target of penicillin and other similar antibiotics.
Despite its important role, little is known about how peptidoglycan is made and how antibiotics interfere with it at the biochemical, structural and cellular levels. Without this knowledge, researchers say they are unlikely to understand how to develop new, effective antibiotics in the future.
Professor Rick Lewis and Professor Waldemar Vollmer, from Newcastle University’s Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences, are part of the pioneering five-year project.
“We will be applying biochemical and structural biology techniques to the problem of antibiotic resistance,” said Professor Lewis.
“We will also be providing cutting-edge training opportunities for graduates who are interested in developing new antibiotics. The threat posed by antibiotic resistance is a real public health challenge and we hope that by ensuring we develop links between academia and the pharmaceutical industry our research can make a real difference in the quest for new antibiotics.”
The project is being led by Warwick University and will bring together a group of leading experts, from institutions including the Universities of Oxford, Sheffield and Southampton, in the fields of bacterial chemistry, genetics, physics and physiology.
Antibiotic resistance is a significant problem for healthcare and agriculture. Antibiotics have been used to treat bacterial infections in humans and animals for 70 years, but these medicines are becoming less effective. Worryingly no new classes of antibiotics have been discovered for 25 years and some strains of bacteria are now not killed by the drugs designed to destroy them.
Dr Des Walsh, head of infections and immunity at the MRC, said: “It’s only with the best researchers working together on the highest quality research, with the financial muscle to make it all happen, that we will truly make headway in the battle to stop the spread of superbugs.
“It’s exciting that the UK houses such scientific talent and the skills to bring them all together. Looking at how superbugs affect our lives across the chain, from our farms to our pharmacies, is really important. This needs a cross-academia, cross-industry, and cross-continent approach.”
Further to academic collaborations, the pharmaceutical industry and charities will also work hand in hand with the researchers on a global scale with the aim of unlocking new types of antibiotics.
Professor Chris Dowson, at the University of Warwick, said: “Antibiotic resistance needs to be viewed as a long-term problem with no quick fix. It will be with us for many generations to come. To ‘beat the bug’ we need to accelerate discovery activities in partnership with industry. Our multidisciplinary team will develop new insight to key targets to help accelerate this discovery and will provide a platform upon which to train the next generation of researchers.”

Photo caption: Professor Rick Lewis, from Newcastle University’s Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences


Key Facts:

  • Newcastle University is a Russell Group University
  • Ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world (QS World University Rankings 2014)
  • Ranked 16th in the UK for global research power (REF 2014)
  • Ranked 10th overall in the UK and 3rd for quality of staff/lecturers in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2015
  • Amongst our peers Newcastle is:
    • Joint 6th in the UK for student satisfaction
    • Ranked 1st in the UK for Computing Science research impact, 3rd in the UK for Civil Engineering research power and 11th in the UK for Mathematical Sciences research (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 8th in the UK for Medical and Life Sciences research quality (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 3rd in the UK for English, and in the top 12 for Geography, Architecture and Planning, and Cultural and Media Studies research quality (REF 2014)
    • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) top 20 strategic partner
  • 93.7% of our students are in a job or further training within six months of graduating
  • We have a world-class reputation for research excellence and are spearheading three major societal challenges that have a significant impact on global society. These themes are: Ageing, Sustainability, and Social Renewal
  • Newcastle University is the first UK university to establish a fully owned international branch campus for medicine at its NUMed Campus in Malaysia which opened in 2011
  • 90% Satisfaction level from our international students (ISB 2014)
  • Newcastle University Business School is one of 20 Triple Accredited Business Schools in the UK

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