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BristolBridge: a multidisciplinary approach to tackling antimicrobial resistance

Professor Adrian Mulholland

Professor Adrian Mulholland, Principal Investigator for Bristol's AMR challenge

16 April 2015

The University has been awarded almost £600,000 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support researchers from a wide range of disciplines in efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

The antimicrobial resistance (AMR) challenge is part of a cross-research council initiative to encourage researchers to work collaboratively to tackle the emergence and spread of infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to treatment by current antibiotics. In a competitive bid for funding, less than a third of submitted proposals were successful, with the University of Bristol ranking fourth in terms of the size of the award. The University’s proposal, BristolBridge, aims to bridge the gap between the engineering and physical sciences and antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance, especially resistance to antibiotics, is a rapidly growing global problem. The emergence and spread of infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to treatment by current antibiotics strikes at the heart of modern medical and veterinary practice. As the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has emphasised, there are few public health issues of greater importance than AMR, both in the UK and across the world, in terms of their impact on society. The spectre of untreatable infections is growing. Unchecked, AMR is predicted to cause 300 million premature deaths worldwide, and to cost the world economy $100 trillion (£64 trillion) by 2050. The Department of Health has released a Five Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy (2013-18) setting out actions to slow the development and spread of AMR.  

A multidisciplinary approach is needed to tackle these challenges and make a step change in addressing antimicrobial resistance. A key aspect of the AMR challenge is that researchers develop networks within their institutions focusing on the four multidisciplinary themes in the cross-council AMR initiative. These networks are intended to support scientists to build capacity and understanding that could lead to future research proposals. The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research (EBI) coordinated the University’s proposal together with a multidisciplinary team including investigators from the engineering, mathematical, physical science and the biomedical science communities, led by Professor Adrian Mulholland in the School of Chemistry.  

The University of Bristol houses world-leading research in materials science, engineering, synthetic biology, physics, nanoscience and synthetic chemistry. All these disciplines can make potentially transformative contributions to tackling AMR. Unleashing this potential requires new ways of interdisciplinary working, and bringing together researchers from these disciplines with counterparts from biology and human and animal medicine.

BristolBridge aims to provide exciting new research opportunities for outstanding engineering and physical sciences researchers, including those who have never previously felt their work was relevant to AMR. It will support multiple short projects across the University.

Particular strands of activity will include the development of:

  • tools and techniques for assays, screening and diagnostics, and novel antimicrobial compounds;
  • innovative antimicrobial materials, smart surfaces and wound dressings to prevent infection, and new drug delivery methods;
  • AMR surveillance and intervention techniques.

‘BristolBridge is an exciting opportunity for researchers across the University to bring their expertise to fighting antibiotic resistance’, said Professor Mulholland, Principal Investigator on the project. ‘Tools and techniques from engineering and the physical sciences will be crucial in finding ways to deal with AMR. Tackling AMR will require interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing together biomedical and physical scientists. The important message for Bristol researchers is that BristolBridge can support your project: we’re looking for innovative and imaginative ideas, and we will support you in testing and developing them.’

Dr Nina Couzin, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Manager, added: ‘Building and supporting new interdisciplinary health research communities is at the core of the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute’s mission. The EBI is ideally placed to help building interdisciplinary capacity in antimicrobial resistance, and has already begun building connections across these communities. The EBI’s focus on producing tangible outcomes that can be translated into clinical practice will also help to ensure that the research outcomes from this project have practical relevance and translational potential.’

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