New SHIELD to tackle antibiotic resistance

David DockrellScientists have received a £3.5m funding boost to investigate new ways to combat antimicrobial resistance with super white blood cells.

The SHIELD Consortium led by the University of Sheffield with partners from Edinburgh, Birmingham and Newcastle universities will look at developing therapies within the body to kill harmful bacteria.

Current work has focused on developing new antibiotics that fight bacteria but an increasing number of bacteria are becoming resistant to these drugs.

Instead, the team want to increase the body’s own response in combating these bacteria by enhancing the capacity of phagocytes - a special type of white blood cell that eat and kill bacteria. The team aim to enhance how these cells kill bacteria while limiting the generation of harmful inflammation.

David Dockrell, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Co-director of the Florey Institute for Host Pathogen Interactions at the University of Sheffield, said: “The human body regularly fights bacteria without any problems. This is because blood cells circulating in our immune system, called macrophages and neutrophils, fight the first signs of infection in the body by recognising and destroying the bacteria.

“This project seeks to increase our understanding of exactly how these immune cells work so that we can maximise the ability of the cells to not only destroy harmful bacteria but also limit the damage to healthy tissue caused by excessive inflammation. If we can identify what genes within these cells are the most important in the optimal killing of bacteria, it could lead to medicines being developed that can re-engage and enhance this vital process when it fails.”

The funding is part of a £9.5m funding package announced today (Thursday 19 May 2016) by the Medical Research Council (MRC) as part of a cross-council initiative to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The University of Bristol has received £2.2m for a project looking at the potential to develop new types of antibiotics from fungi and the University of Leeds has been awarded £3.8m to develop a new tool that can be used by doctors to detect the presence of a bacterial or viral infection quickly before antibiotics are prescribed to stop their unnecessary use.

The awards together mark one of the biggest investments into AMR since the initiative launched and will use new technology to exploit natural compounds, develop a tool to offer better and faster diagnostics and explore how the body’s own immune system can be boosted to fight infection.

AMR is a significant and growing challenge. The world is facing an increase in the number and type of bacteria resistant to antibiotics alongside stagnation in the development of new antibiotics or viable alternatives. It is clear that an interdisciplinary approach at a global level is needed to tackle the challenge in order to save millions of lives being lost as a result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The MRC has been working with the other research councils that form Research Councils UK to identify research opportunities that cross disciplines to help tackle the rise in AMR.
The latest round of awards have been funded by the MRC, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Physical Social Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the AMR cross-council initiative, as part of a strategic and co-ordinated effort to address the growing problem head on.

Dr Jonathan Pearce, Head of Infections and Immunity at the MRC, said: “If the antibiotics that we rely on to protect us after common surgery like caesareans, joint replacements, chemotherapy and transplant surgery, don’t work, it’s going to have a catastrophic effect on our healthcare system. That’s why it’s so important we continue to invest in research into AMR.

“There is undoubtedly an urgent need to develop new antibiotics but tacking the issue of AMR is about much more. We need to be imaginative and look at what alternatives there are to antibiotic use, and to do this successfully we need to work in partnership. These awards are a concrete example of what the MRC in collaboration with the others research councils are doing at an interdisciplinary level to fight AMR.”