What is AMR and how can research help?

AMR occurs when the organisms that cause infection, such as bacteria and viruses, change over time and no longer respond to antimicrobial drugs such as antibiotics. 

Although a natural process, the problem is being made worse by the overuse, misuse and improper disposal of antimicrobial drugs across human, animal and environmental sectors.  

At the same time, antimicrobial development has stalled over the past thirty years. No new class of antibiotic has been discovered since the 1980s.  

The key challenges

AMR threatens to reverse decades of human medical progress, turning routine surgery such as caesarean section or hip replacement and cancer chemotherapy into high-risk procedures.

In 2019, AMR accounted for 1.27million global deaths, at least as many deaths as other key health challenges such as Malaria and HIV/AIDs. By 2050, AMR is estimated to cause more human deaths than cancer and diabetes combined. 

Around half of the antimicrobials used globally are within the animal agriculture sector. This means antimicrobials can move up food chains, reaching humans, but also contaminate the environment as waste and run-off from agricultural sites. Antimicrobials in the environment will continue to drive AMR, impacting both human and animal health so we urgently need to find alternatives to antimicrobial use in agriculture.  

The financial impact of AMR, including increased healthcare spending, could cost the global economy $100 trillion US Dollars.

The role of research

High quality research is central to an effective response to AMR, but we must consider all components of this dynamic problem.  

At the University of Leeds, research spans multiple disciplines in a coordinated effort to tackle AMR. Developing new drugs, and identifying novel compounds or antimicrobial alternatives is crucial to supporting the now drained antibiotic pipeline. 

However, we must also make sure treatments that already exist are used appropriately. Research into rapid diagnostic tests, particularly those which are low cost and easy to use, are essential to make sure antimicrobial drugs are only prescribed when needed, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Additionally, by better understanding the causes and behaviours of AMR we can develop effective interventions to stop or slow it, and its impact, down.

Finally, we focus on the social side of the AMR crisis, engaging with users of antimicrobials in all settings to make sure they fully understand the usage, dosage and disposal practices that are crucial to keep antimicrobial treatments working effectively.  

This cross-cutting approach uses the expertise of interdisciplinary professionals to develop, troubleshoot and refine holistic research at both the fundamental and applied levels.