National Physical Laboratory

Fighting antimicrobial resistance with metrology

To help combat decades of stagnation in antibiotic development, an international team led by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is developing metrology at the interface between the physical and life sciences to provide a molecular basis for new antibiotics that are formidable to bacterial resistance.

Fighting antimicrobial resistance with metrology

Since the pioneering efforts of Florey and Chain we have heavily relied on antibiotics to cure everything from acne to pneumonia. Antibiotics are effective, cheap and readily available, and have almost ruled out deaths from minor infections. But times change and these pillars of modern medicine are losing their status at an alarming rate.

Most recent government reports warn that drug resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year worldwide - more than currently die from cancer - by 2050 unless action is taken. The urgency of the matter has prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to formally tackle the problem of an unwanted post-antibiotic era.

Professor Laura Piddock, a world-leading microbiologist and the director of the UK-led global initiative, Antibiotic Action, said: "We need more investment and new business models to ensure the pipeline is filled with promising molecules, to ensure that we can solve this problem, and make sure the drugs are there when patients need them."

In response to the challenge, scientists at NPL have been at the forefront of providing a new biophysical measurement infrastructure combining engineering, experimental and computational methods that are specific to R&D in the post-antibiotic world.

The starting point of the NPL's research is the establishment of a measurement infrastructure to provide a detailed mechanistic understanding of the body's natural ability to fight infection. One such ability, which has remained unaltered by evolution, involves short protein fragments that destroy an Achilles' heel of a bacterial cell - its membrane.

The fragments themselves are molecular programs that encode critical properties of how and when to attack bacterial cells and how to differentiate them from human cells. Deciphering these programs, through robust measurements, will provide a molecular basis that may prove crucial for developing fundamentally new antibiotics and antimicrobial devices.

Find out more about NPL's work on Biotechnology

For more information, contact Max Ryadnov

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Last Updated: 12 Dec 2014
Created: 12 Dec 2014

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