Rebecca Hull from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity & Cardiovascular Disease has been selected for the first ever national PhD Training Programme in Antimicrobial Resistance which was launched by the Medical Research Foundation this autumn. The innovative research conducted by this cohort of 18 students from 16 UK universities will contribute to the ambitious aims of the UKRI-funded cross-council research consortia which is tackling AMR on a global scale.
Antibiotics transformed healthcare in the 20th century and are still considered one of greatest medical achievements of the era. Today, we rely on antibiotics to treat life-threatening bacterial infections and to prevent infection after surgery. But antibiotic overuse and misuse has led to antibiotics becoming increasingly ineffective and antimicrobial resistance, specifically antibiotic resistance, now poses a global threat to human life.
Working alongside the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Foundation spotted a gap in funding for PhD studentships in antimicrobial resistance research – right now there are few emerging researchers trained in the multidisciplinary approach required to tackle the antimicrobial resistance problem. This new PhD Training Programme is designed to help build a strong, active network of early career researchers by bringing together those who study microbiology, genetics and medicine with social scientists, vets, dentists, ecologists, environmental biologists, anthropologists, chemists and biomedical engineers.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England who is a leading advocate on the need to address antimicrobial resistance said: “I am thrilled that the Medical Research Foundation is building on the successful work of the UK Research Councils by investing £2.85m to create the UK’s only national PhD Training Programme in Antimicrobial Resistance. Training the next generation of researchers in this area is vital and we must equip scientists with the multi-disciplinary skills needed to conduct world leading research into this global threat.”
Dr Jonathan Pearce, MRC Head of Immunity and Infections, added: “Over the past five years, in partnership with the other UKRI Councils, we’ve made huge efforts to better understand the threat of AMR and find solutions – together investing £44 million in 78 UK projects and £41 million in projects worldwide. A key aspect of recent investment has been interdisciplinarity – bringing researchers with different expertise together to look at complex problems from a different angle. The Medical Research Foundation’s AMR PhD programme is exactly the type of initiative required to develop the future cadre of interdisciplinary researchers that we need.”
Rebecca is looking at the genetic sequencing of evolved bacteria and interactions with immune cells to identify how resistance is occurring, and how it might be stopped. Her research will determine how conditions at sites of infection encourage bacteria to evolve and evade immune responses, and how such adaptations might be overcome. She is focussing on Staphylococcus aureus, which causes a range of severe and potentially lethal infections, and readily develops antimicrobial resistance – Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a ‘superbug’. Bacteria will be grown in a medium that mimics the human lung environment, but results will be applicable to other infection settings.
Commenting on her motivation to join the scheme, Rebecca said: “AMR is a fundamental challenge which, if not overcome, could seriously impact the way medical care is delivered. Being part of this programme will benefit my scientific creativity through discussion and sharing different solutions with scientists across the country, and help me gain a far greater grasp on the broader issues of AMR and the methods being used to overcome it. I hope my research will help enable a new sustainable approach to treating and preventing bacterial infections which currently test the limits of modern medicine.”
The Foundation will also reach a further 150 UK PhD students training in AMR-related research through training and network-building activities such as on-line resources, summer residential training weeks, annual AMR conferences and tailored meetings responsive to developments and opportunities relevant to the AMR field.
Why did you want to take part in this training scheme?
“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major threat to society and urgently needs to be understood. This training scheme has been developed to bring scientists together from different disciplines to tackle this challenge. Being part of this scheme will benefit my scientific creativity, through discussion and sharing different solutions with scientists across the country”.
What impact do you think your participation in this programme could have on your research and career?
“Through participation in the scheme I expect to gain a far greater grasp on the issues of AMR and the methods being used to overcome it. This will enhance the quality of the research I carry out. Additionally, I expect the scheme will help to expand my contacts in AMR which will enable me to continue with an exciting job in AMR research after completion of my PhD”.
Why did you choose AMR as your research area?
“AMR is a fundamental challenge which, if not overcome, could seriously impact the way medical care is delivered. Therefore, there is an urgent need for research in the field. This means successful research in the field could have a significant impact on society which I want to be involved in”.
What do you hope your research will achieve? What impact do you hope it will have on our wider society?
“I hope to be involved in research which will enable a new sustainable approach to treating bacterial infections to prevent bacterial infections limiting modern medicine”.