Ausgem AMR research leads to $1m grant
University of Technology Sydney,
Broadway, NSW 2007
NSW Department of Primary Industries, Menangle, NSW 2568
A consortium of 26 researchers led by UTS has secured nearly $1 million in federal government funding for an innovative project to tackle one of the world’s most pressing and complex health challenges: antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Notably, five of the team are part of Ausgem including the project chief investigator and Ausgem’s UTS lead Professor Steven Djordjevic and General Manager Dr Branwen Morgan. Professor Aaron Darling, Associate Professor Maurizio Labbate and Dr Daniel Bogema round out the Ausgem contingent.
The new funding was secured through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)’s new Frontier Health and Medical Research Program. It will lay the foundations for development of an AMR ‘knowledge engine’ capable of predicting outbreaks and informing interventions.
Djordjevic’s research group has a strong research track record in AMR and his team and colleagues have studied how bacteria – pathogens and commensals – are carrying and transferring antibiotic resistant genes in agricultural, clinical, and environmental environments. “We take what is called a One Health approach,” explains Djordjevic. “Antibiotics are used by people, given to our pets and food animals and, in some situations, used to control bacterial diseases in crops. We need a systems approach to better understand the problem in order to develop mitigation strategies,” he adds.
Morgan says that it was the whole genome sequencing and metagenomics technologies and insights gained through Ausgem research that underpin their success. “We have a One Health understanding of AMR and believe that by ingesting numerous data streams from people, animals and the environment and combining them with AMR science, the technology will allow anticipation of AMR outbreaks, determination of AMR origins, and evaluation of the risks and cost-effectiveness of treatments and intervention strategies for individuals and communities.”
If left unchecked, AMR is forecast to cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050, and add a US$100 trillion burden to health systems worldwide.
The team have named their system OUTBREAK – short for One-health Understanding Through Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics Knowledge.
Djordjevic says, “We worked tirelessly with our cross institutional partners and collaborators over many weeks to generate the proposal. However, the need for an integrated spatial and temporal map and AI-powered ‘knowledge engine’ to tackle AMR would not have been realised without many months of earlier stakeholder engagement, and we’re very proud of the result.”
Morgan agrees. “Our product is based on addressing data gaps and meeting the needs of multiple end users working in biosecurity and food security as well as health security. It’s really important that we continue these conversations during our pilot phase to ensure versatility and usability,” she says.
Djordjevic also acknowledges the backing and investment UTS put behind their application. “Our Dean of Science, Professor Dianne Jolley was particularly encouraging,” he says.
The OUTBREAK Consortium is backed by the University of Technology Sydney, University of South Australia, University of Wollongong, University of Newcastle, CSIRO, NSW Department of Primary Industries, The Sax Institute, the Quadram Institute (UK), Sensing Value, Microba, ZyGEM (NZ), Southern-IML Pathology, Oracle, and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.
The team has diverse expertise in genomics, metagenomics, microbiome and computational biology, medical geography and spatial epidemiology, patient data handling, data linkage and big data, zoonotic disease, biosecurity, water treatment technologies, behavioural change and social science, risk management, pharmacy, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and health economics, policy, and law.