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Effect of the Widespread Use of Antimicrobial Materials on Antimicrobial Resistance

Primary Supervisor: Dr Felicity de Cogan, Institute of Microbiology and Infection

Secondary supervisor: Jack Bryant

PhD project title: Effect of the Widespread Use of Antimicrobial Materials on Antimicrobial Resistance.

University of Registration: University of Birmingham

Project outline:

The increase in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a recognised global problem. Current forecasts project that by 2050, it will have led to 10 million preventable deaths, and cost the global economy in excess of £66 trillion. Research and development across different sectors will be key in tackling this problem. We have developed a novel antimicrobial surface which incorporates biocides onto surfaces, is very durable and can last for years. We have demonstrated that the surfaces are effective in killing bacteria, fungi and viruses (including SARS-CoV-2) in seconds. It is considerably faster than any other commercial technology and is resistant to abrasion and common cleaning practices. Our initial studies have also demonstrated that when surfaces incorporate biocides such as chlorhexidine digluconate they are as effective at killing chlorhexidine resistant bacteria as they are at killing naïve bacteria. The technology has been shown to be efficacious in both lab-based and “real world” studies, therefore proving to be highly effective at decreasing the spread of bacteria.

Despite the extremely promising progress made so far with this technology, the widespread use of biocides raises concerns for the potential of antimicrobial resistance and further work is required. The aim of this project would be to investigate the mechanism by which surfaces inhibit bacterial survival and whether this differs from the effect of the biocide in liquid culture. The project will review and optimise the parameters used to generate the surfaces in order to determine the effect on bacteria survival. We will seek to explore this approach in real world settings by taking part in long running studies with industrial collaborators. We will also study the mechanisms of killing and examine whether or not the emergence of resistance is likely to be a problem through the use of high-throughput genetics and lab-based evolution approaches. Legislation is beginning to restrict some of this overuse, however there are still major concerns about misuse and high levels of antibiotics in farm run-off, which can select for resistant organisms.

The technology in development has widespread use in many areas, including healthcare where it could prevent the spread of hospital acquired infection, but also in agriculture. It is generally recognised that overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is a major contributor to the evolution and spread of AMR. While legislation is beginning to restrict some of this overuse, there are still major concerns about misuse and high levels of antibiotics in farm run-off, which can select for resistant organisms. This project therefore address BBSRC strategic research priorities of combatting antimicrobial resistance, and technology development for the biosciences.

The project will target the following objectives:

Objective 1: Ascertain the necessary parameters of the surfaces required for antimicrobial efficacy

Objective 2: Determine the mechanism by which antimicrobial surfaces kill bacteria and whether this differs between Gram-negatives and Gram-positives.

Objective 3: Use high-throughput genetics to characterise the gene networks that become essential for bacterial survival on surfaces and compare this to those involved in survival in liquid culture.

Objective 4: Use lab-based evolution by iterative exposures to antibacterial surfaces to investigate whether resistance can evolve and use next generation sequencing to identify the mechanisms of resistance.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiology

      Techniques that will be undertaken during the project :

      • Surface coupling
      • Surface analysis
      • Bacteria culture
      • Fungi culture
      • Data analysis
      • Sequencing
      • Bioinformatics

      Contact: Dr Felicity de Cogan, University of Birmingham