Described as “A Silent Tsunami”, anti-microbial resistance is one of the biggest threats to human health in our life time. It’s predicted that currently 700,000 people die due to AMR each year globally with that figure expected to rise to 10 million by 2050.
Throughout 2021, the European Centre for Environment and Human Health is marking its tenth anniversary year by bringing businesses, communities and the academic world together to reflect on the breadth of issues the Centre has been exploring and to network and discuss the opportunities for future collaboration and discovery.
A series of Peninsula Forum events are reflecting on how researchers have worked together to shape a decade of environment and human health research: exploring the complex links that impact local and global communities.
The first event, held in March 2021 focused on AMR Resistance, with insights from Professor Will Gaze of the University of Exeter Medical School and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health who explains,
“The problem of AMR covers every aspect of life and science, creating health and economic impacts globally. For example, higher temperatures associated with climate change may lead to increased survival of human gut bacteria in the environment and increased flooding will increase transmission through human exposure to polluted water.
“We have to take a broader holistic view to see how all the different elements of AMR relate to each other, including the contribution of natural and farmed environments. Our group is unique, in that we look at the combination of AMR evolution, the spread of AMR within the environment, and finally the impact of environmental transmission on human health. This highly unusual approach gives Exeter the ability to undertake joined-up thinking to tackle the problem.”
The Forum group also heard from PhD Students who had the opportunity to share their work and findings.
April Hayes’ work is looking at the impact of non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals on anti-microbial resistance. She is exploring the impact of three common medications used to treat diabetes, anti inflammatory drugs and those in the oral contraceptive pills, all of which pass into the environment through waste water systems. She explains that these have an assumed risk and discusses how through laboratory work she is examining their impact.
Emily Stevenson’s Masters work focuses on the interaction between microplastics and AMR, with findings revealing that pathogens were not only enriched on microplastics but some microplastics were enriched to a greater extent. She also found that microplastics may drive anti-microbial resistance by adding selection pressures. The research reveals that potentially microplastics could be hotspots for pathogens and anti-microbial resistance and recommends that this requires further investigation.
Laura Murray discusses her PhD work which is looking at the impacts of non-antibiotic Plant Protection Protection, which are applied to crops and she discuss the subsequent effects that this may have on environmental bacteria. She is investigating increases in genes and community changes and the extent to which bacteria may share resistance with human pathogens, posing a threat to human health.. The project has funding from Astra Zeneca.
Third year PhD student Luke Lear’s talks about whether metals can select for pathogenic traits in bacteria and whether liming can reduce the impact.
Over the past decade The European Centre for Environment and Human Health has has supported numerous PhD, Masters and Undergraduate students and worked with over 300 Cornish businesses. Its research spans at least 40 countries and last year it was selected as a WHO Collaborating Centre on the Natural Environment and Health.