The University of Southampton

Southampton researchers to tackle threat of antibiotic resistance in new £2.8m laboratories

Published: 30 July 2019
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Researchers are developing rapid methods for detecting or diagnosing antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Researchers from the University of Southampton will assess rapid diagnosis technologies and treatments against antibiotic resistant infections in new research laboratories at University Hospital Southampton.

The university-hospital partnership has won £2.8 million in funding for the facilities as part of a £32 million package awarded to ten sites nationally by the Department of Health and Social Care.

Experts from the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) will use the hub to continue their ground-breaking work developing rapid methods for detecting or diagnosing antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Overuse of antibiotics has driven anti-microbial resistance (AMR) - the emergence of bacteria and fungi strains immune to their effects, resulting in infections that kill over 5,000 people each year in the UK. That figure is rising year-on-year and globally there is concern that new strains may emerge that are resistant to all existing antibiotics.

University Hospital Southampton and the University of Southampton's Global Network for Anti-Microbial Resistance and Infection Prevention (UoS NAMRIP) will develop the state-of-the-art research facilities to tackle this threat on the frontline.

Professor Tim Leighton, Director of UoS NAMRIP, said: “This award is a huge achievement and we are extremely grateful to the Department of Health and Social Care. This is an enormous opportunity to close the loop of researchers working with end users to define the key problems and opportunities to address AMR, conduct ground-breaking research to address those, and then progress to end users who can ensure breakthroughs are translated out to benefit on a societal scale.”

Located at the heart of Southampton General Hospital, researchers at the laboratories will work directly with consultants and services including adult and children’s medicine, major surgery, infectious diseases and emergency care.

Southampton is already at the forefront of world-leading clinical research in infectious diseases through studies such as a pioneering use of genetically-modified harmless bacteria to dislodge strains that cause life-threatening meningitis by Professor Robert Read, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Southampton Biomedical Research Unit and lead applicant on the facilities award.

Professor Hywel Morgan and colleagues from ECS are developing a rapid 30-minute test to determine whether patient samples with a urine infection contains a resistant infection.

“The research builds upon work previously funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) which extracted the bacteria from the urine and then extracted the DNA from which we identified genes that tell us if the bacteria are resistant,” he explained.

“This research uses a digital microfluidic platform and is a collaboration with Public Health England (PHE). We are also developing a simple and rapid anti-microbial susceptibility test, AST for short, that can be used on any patient samples. This test looks at the direct response of the bacteria to an antibiotic to determine whether they are resistant or not.”

The pioneering work is done using electrical methods that analyses single bacteria in a population one by one, but very quickly. The current timeline for an AST is between 48 and 72 hours, however the ECS team have now demonstrated results in as short a timeframe as 30 minutes. The researchers have filed patents and are working with PHE to commercialise the technology.

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