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NPL PhD Student achieves an awarded doctoral

Winnie Akwani successfully defended her thesis on antimicrobial resistance

2 minute read

NiCE-MSI iCASE PhD student, Winifred Akwani (Winnie) was awarded a PhD for her successful doctoral thesis defence in “Antibiotic resistance of nontuberculous mycobacterium biofilms studied through microbiology and multimodal imaging”. Winnie is a student in the School of Biosciences at the University of Surrey (with Suzie Hingley-Wilson and Mark Chambers) and her supervision is in collaboration with the National Biofilm Innovation Centre (Paulina Rakowska) and NPL (Greg McMahon and Ian Gilmore). 

Her thesis focused on two emerging human pathogens,Mycobacterium abscessus and Mycobacterium chimaera, which cause chronic lung disease of healthy and less healthy people, especially those with cystic fibrosis. These pathogens form biofilms that contribute to persistent infections, which are difficult to treat as they show increased antimicrobial resistance.

The main question of the thesis was whether this increased resistance and longer treatment time are due to the lack of antibiotic penetration into different biofilm morphologies. The results of the study showed that the extent of penetration of antibiotics depended on the biofilm morphotype. The team also developed and published a diagnostic assay capable of differentiating between different sub-species. These results could lead to better and more improved management of M. abscessus and M. chimaera lung disease.

Dr Winnie Akwani said: “This interdisciplinary project focused on evolving mycobacterial species and explored the clinical relevance of biofilm formation in the context of antibiotic resistance. This research highlighted the importance of understanding the characteristics of biofilm formation and the complexities of treatments, providing valuable insights into the development of more effective treatment options”

Prof. Ian Gilmore, senior NPL fellow, said: “I am delighted to see Winnie’s achievement in this challenging topic where she succeeded in combining state-of-the-art molecular imaging with well-controlled biofilm creation to provide new insights into a globally important topic.”

Dr Suzie Hingley-Wilson, University of Surrey professor and supervisor, said: “Winnie’s work demonstrates the importance of taking an interdisciplinary approach to interrogate an unanswered issue, such as the inherent antibiotic resistance of these clinically important biofilms. These results will allow better treatment options to be developed. Well done, Winnie”.


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26 Oct 2023