UEA scientists join £2.5m pneumonia research project

University of East Anglia. Picture: Supplied

University of East Anglia. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

Researchers at the University of East Anglia are part of a new £2.5m project to improve hospital treatment for patients with pneumonia and tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance.

If the scheme is successful it means patients can get the right antibiotic sooner, and that doctors can better manage their stock of antibiotics.

It comes as scientists have identified bacteria that are able to shrug off last-resort drug colistin, which means resistance can spread around the world and increase the range of untreatable infections.

The five-year programme, of which UEA is a part, is entitled 'INHALE: Potential of Molecular Diagnostics for Hospital-Acquired and Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia in UK Critical Care' and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

Experts Dr Justin O'Grady and Professor David Livermore, both of UEA's Norwich Medical School, will work with clinicians and scientists from University College London and University College London Hospitals, led by Dr Vanya Gant and Dr Vicky Enne.

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To effectively treat severely-ill pneumonia patients with the right antibiotic, doctors must know which bacteria are responsible.

Current tests take two days or more and – in the meantime – a 'broad-spectrum antibiotic', capable of killing many different types of bacteria, is given until the results are available.

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Dr O'Grady said: 'This isn't ideal. Some patients with pneumonia symptoms don't have a bacterial infection. Others have highly resistant bacteria, which are not killed even by the broad-spectrum antibiotic – and this doubles the risk of death in severe pneumonia.

'On the other hand, many pneumonia patients have very susceptible bacteria and are over-treated until the lab result becomes available.

'This over-treatment leads to undesirable side effects, for example C-diff diarrhoea, and promotes resistance, making future infections harder to treat.'

The team will study new 'molecular diagnostic' tests, which aim to identify bacteria and their resistances directly from their genetic signatures in respiratory secretions – with results in under less than hours.

It will allow treatments to be refined earlier, benefitting individual patients and allowing the most potent antibiotics to be reserved for those who really need them.

Prof Livermore added: 'If we use antibiotics better – a precision strike rather than carpet bombing – we can cure patients and slow the development of antibiotic resistance.'

The team will test samples from patients with suspected pneumonia in the intensive care units of four hospitals, carefully chosen to represent different patient types and rates of resistance.

Do you have a health story? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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