Mike Cox reports on the ‘sandpit’ event held by the Antimicrobial Research Collaborative (ARC) to encourage multidisciplinary research, where he was part of the winning team. The groups were looking at novel ways to tackle the issue of antibiotic resistance.

“Attendance at the sandpit was selective, they wanted a wide range of skills represented, from mathematical modelling, point of care sensing and engineering, to chemistry, veterinary science and microbiology.  The problem of antibiotic resistance is global and requires a multi-disciplinary approach.  My interest came from our work on the respiratory microbiome, where we’ve seen the whole community of bacteria present in the lungs respond to antibiotics, not just the organism causing the problem.  There is huge application of antibiotics for respiratory infections – 16 million prescriptions a year in the NHS, so it was important that respiratory microbiology was represented.

Over the course of the sandpit, we were grouped with people with completely different skills, and had to come up with ideas for how to tackle the problem.  Groups were constantly changed to ensure a wide variety of different ideas.  Towards the end, we then focused in teams on developing a single idea, with the aim of pitching this to a panel of judges for pump-priming money.  Picking a single idea was difficult, as actual a large number of potential projects were developed over all, and hopefully new collaborations formed that can take these ideas forward.

Dr Andrew Edwards of the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection lead our team and had the idea of boosting the immune system response to bacteria in general, while avoiding the inevitable development of their resistance to antibiotics.  The resulting proposal from our team’s efforts, Promoting Immune Clearance, draws on the skills of the entire group of 8 people, from chemistry, immunology, bacteriology and bioinformatics to my human microbiome input, where I will be looking at whether our approach is selective as hoped, and only targets the pathogens, without effecting other harmless or beneficial bacteria present.

We now have to try and get our rapidly put together idea into a real project, with the hope of performing a proof of principal experiment and then following up with further funding”.

The sandpit event was part of EMBRACE which is sponsored by the EPSRC, as part of its ‘Bridging the Gaps‘ initiative. The purpose of EMBRACE is to nurture multidisciplinary research within Imperial College to challenge the catastrophic threat of antimicrobial resistance. The programme is principally designed to develop a cohort of interdisciplinary research fellows who will develop a unique set of hybrid research skills, a positive attitude to multidisciplinary research and the ability to communicate across traditional academic boundaries. More details on EMBRACE.

Members of the winning team:

Dr Andrew Edwards, Lecturer, MRC CMBI (project lead, expert in infection biology)
Dr John Tregoning, Senior Lecturer, Medicine (infection biology and animal models)
Dr Ali Salehi-Reyhani, Chemistry (Single cell analysis)
Dr Avinash Shenoy, Lecturer, MRC CMBI (Innate immunity)
Dr Myrsini Kaforou, ARC Fellow, Medicine (Host immunity)
Dr Lindsay Evans, Embrace Fellow, Chemistry (Medicinal chemistry)
Dr Thomas Lanyon-Hogg, PDRA (Tate group), Chemistry (Drug design and development)
Dr Mike Cox, PDRA, NHLI (Microbiome analysis).

 

 

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