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Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Filling the Void – the search for new antimicrobial targets and inhibitors

Bacterial, viral and protozoan pathogens represent a continuing threat to human and animal health and food security on both local and global scales. Each year in the UK, healthcare associated infections (HCAI) are estimated to account for thousands of deaths and £1bn in costs to the NHS. Whilst HCAI infection rates caused by the bacteria Clostridium difficile and Staphylococcus aureus have fallen significantly, infections caused by other bacterial species, such the Enterobacteriaceae Salmonella and E. coli, have risen to take their place. On a global scale, tuberculosis, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, remains a major concern leading to 1.3 millions deaths in 2012 alone. In addition, pandemic viral infections such as influenza and HIV remain a major and ongoing problem with 35.3 million people living with HIV. These global diseases are most prevalent in the developing world where populations are also threatened by parasitic infections such malaria which causes an estimated 660,000 deaths per annum, 90% of which occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of 17 diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, protozoa and other parasites affecting a staggering 2.7 billion people living on less than $2/day. They have an impact in terms of morbidity and economic activity greater than that of TB and malaria combined, and rivalling HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, protozoa, bacteria and viruses are important causes of disease in livestock and crops. For example Peste des Petits Ruminants Virus (PPRV) is widespread in Africa, Asia and the Middle East causing up to 70% mortality in economically important animals. In addition, despite a spend of several £bn on prevention, the protozoan cause of coccidiosis still leads to major losses in the global chicken farming industry.

In summary, microbial pathogens are major threats to human health and food security. This is exacerbated by the rise of drug resistance and a lack of investment in antimicrobial discovery, issues recently highlighted by the World Health Organisation in a report predicting the dawn of a post-antibiotic era. Drawing on expertise at Durham and at partner organisations across the biological, physical and pharmaceutical sciences we seek to synergize research foci to develop collaborative efforts for the identification and inhibition of novel antimicrobial targets, ultimately leading towards the development of novel therapies and preventative strategies.

Activities include:

  • Networking meetings to develop new research collaborations locally and beyond
  • Hosting high profile external speakers to synergize research efforts
  • Facilitating post-graduate student and staff development through skills sharing etc