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This is how we're fighting  antimicrobial resistance

By Newcastle University

New qPCR assays developed by Newcastle University scientists offer hope in the fight against the environmental spread of antimicrobial resistance. 

What is Antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major global public health issue that has implications on the effective treatment of a growing number of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi, including secondary infections resulting from COVID-19.  

In fact, it's been estimated that the AMR burden causes 1.27 million deaths per year.

Now, building on Newcastle University’s Professor David Graham’s many international and collaborative research projects, new testing methods have been developed that provide a simple and more precise way to quantify the transmission and spread of AMR. 

The DNA-based testing method provides a surrogate marker for monitoring AMR transmission, which will make AMR screening cheaper and more accessible around the world. 


Detecting the presence of AMR  

Researchers from Newcastle University in the UK and colleagues from Spain, Canada and Egypt have successfully trialled two new qPCR assays that detect AMR gene cassettes that are more versus less likely to be transmitted through water, wastewater, and environmental systems.  

Study co-author, Professor David Graham, of Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, said: “The use of wastewater is becoming an increasingly vital tool for guiding healthcare decisions during the pandemic.  

We have shown that the same principle can be used to address other problems, including reducing the spread of AMR superbugs. The method provides a more exact way of determining AMR transmission potential using DNA from wastewater samples.”   

Study first author Dr Marcos Baluja, of Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, added: “We are now aware of the environmental dimension of AMR and its implication in public health. At Newcastle University, we work to understand this complex ecological and evolutionary problem and design feasible methods to identify the hotspot of AMR selection and maintenance in the environment. These tools are crucial to efficiently interrogate the environment and design comprehensive strategies to mitigate dissemination of environmental sources of AMR.” 


The global impact of antimicrobial resistance 

The new qPCR assays are especially important considering a recent report by the World Economic Forum on the economic cost of AMR, in which Professor Graham was a co-author.  

The report showed AMR costs to the wider economy due to reduced labour supply result in worktime and productivity losses, with waterborne AMR leading to 3.5 million additional sick days yearlyat a cost of $300 million globally.   

The report further showed the cost of AMR is closely related to the capacity of local healthcare systems - areas without robust healthcare surveillance seeing the greatest levels of AMR and healthcare costs. The new assays from Newcastle University will especially enhance surveillance in places with limited capacity because wastewater monitoring is feasible even without a well-developed public health care system. 


Find out more about Professor David Graham 

David Graham is a Professor of Ecosystems Engineering at Newcastle University’s School of Engineering. He has spent almost 20 years studying the environmental transmission of antibiotic resistance around the world. 

The work Professor Graham leads combines methods from engineering, microbiology, ecology, mathematics, biochemistry, and molecular biology to solve problems in environmental engineering in a holistic manner. Research topics include biological waste treatment, ecotoxicology, bioremediation, and the environmental fate and impacts of trace and genetic contaminants, recently including the use of wastewater markers to address the global pandemic. 


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