The impact of antibiotic waste and its role in fuelling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – a serious global public health challenge – will be studied by University of the West of Scotland (UWS) as part of a major new £800,000 research project.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology, and forming part of the recently-announced £8 million research collaboration between the UK and India, the University’s Schools of Health and Life Sciences; Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences and Education and Social Sciences will work together in partnership with Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) to study the global issue.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global public health challenge, with antibacterial resistance viewed as posing one of the most serious health threats.”

Professor Fiona Henriquez, Infection and Microbiology Research Group Leader within UWS’s School of Health and Life Sciences.

Antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found in the environment, largely from sewage, agriculture and effluent from the pharmaceutical industry.

The research aims to assess the impact of increasing levels of antibiotic pollution entering waterways, and the role that plays in enabling bacteria to resist the effects of medication that was once a successful treatment, leading to important advances in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria and genes. The issue is particularly pertinent in India due to its role as a major producer of antimicrobials in the global supply chain of the pharmaceutical industry.

As well as understanding the impact of antibiotic pollution, the cross-University project aims to design effective measures for monitoring antibiotic levels and removing them from waste if they are present.

The project will also fund three post-doctoral research assistants, and two UWS-sponsored PhD students to join the research team UWS.

Professor Henriquez added: “Following the major worldwide challenges of Covid-19, this research is extremely important in enabling us to understand more about the impact on, and behaviours of, microbes in the environment, and the actions we can take to prevent potential widespread dangers to public health. We look forward to working with our research partners in the UK and India on this important study.”

The interdisciplinary project will bring together experts on sensor technologies, water treatment and remediation from IITB, with experts on environmental microbiology and meta-omics (the study of drug-microbiome interactions) (Professor Henriquez), geochemistry and waste management (Professor Andrew Hursthouse) from UWS. It will also involve experts in policy and industrial regulatory processes (Professor John Connolly) from the University, to help shape and refine policy and improve regulatory control in pharmaceutical waste management.

“UWS is delighted to announce its involvement in this new, pioneering study that will explore an extremely important worldwide issue and which can have a significant impact on global public health. It is fantastic that UWS’s internationally renowned research capabilities will play a key role in this study and we look forward to working with leaders in this field from both the UK and India, to not only make a real, positive impact on our natural environment, but on public health around the world.” 

Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of UWS