A person holding a Petri dish with bacteria in it

Oxford researchers join US project to tackle antibiotic resistance

A group of Oxford researchers are developing advanced technologies to support the fight against antibiotic resistance. 

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major global health challenge that requires technological advancements to address. AMR occurs when disease-causing microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, become resistant against antimicrobial medicines. Examples of antimicrobial medicines include antibiotics and antivirals. 

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance can develop naturally, but it is accelerated by factors such as inappropriate use. When antibiotics become ineffective, bacterial infections can quickly turn deadly, especially when alternative antimicrobial drugs or treatments are not available.

Data demonstrates the global threat of AMR. In 2019, more than 1.2 million people died as a direct result of bacterial AMR. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections likewise contributed to approximately 4.95 million deaths that same year.  

Bacterial AMR is affecting England as well. National surveillance data showed a 4% increase in antibiotic resistant infections from 55,792 in 2021 to 58,224 in 2022. Within the same time period, the number of deaths caused by bacterial AMR also rose from 2,110 to 2,202. 

In September 2023, US President Joe Biden announced the Defeating Antibiotic Resistance through Transformative Solutions (DARTS) project to address the bacterial AMR crisis. The project aims to support transformative solutions to antibiotic resistance. It received $104 million in funding through the US Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a research funding agency that invests in cutting-edge solutions to health.

The DARTS project is led by Harvard Medical School and involves the collaboration of more than twenty US partners. Oxford’s Engineered Biotechnology Research Group is the only international partner involved in the project.

The research group is led by Oxford Associate Professor of Engineering Science Harrison Steel. Partnership was offered to the group because of their expertise in developing robotics and bioreactors to address scientific, environmental, and industrial challenges.

The goal of DARTS is to use artificial intelligence, high-throughput testing, and robotics to quickly identify bacteria and their antibiotic susceptibility. This may also help inform the creation of novel antibiotics. Current testing methods can be slow and require modernisation and optimisation to effectively address the threat of AMR. 

Building on their expertise, the Oxford team is helping develop technologies that will improve the ability to observe, cultivate, and test bacteria. Their transformative work will help revolutionise antibiotic resistance testing and combat one of the leading global public health challenges.

Image Credit: CDC from Unsplash

Image Description: A person holding a Petri dish with bacteria in it