Partnership against Biofilm-associated Expression, Acquisition and Transmission of AMR


Research Project: 2017-06-01 - 2020-05-31
Total sum awarded: €1 343 019

A relatively recent advance in microbiology is the finding that the majority of infections are caused by bacterial biofilms. Biofilms are structured communities of bacteria found on surfaces that become embedded within a self-produced extracellular polymeric matrix. Biofilms can form on tissues or on biomedical surfaces, such as blood catheters or implants, where they act as a reservoir of potential healthcare associated infection. Bacteria living in biofilms can tolerate much higher antibiotic concentrations compared to planktonic bacteria and survive long enough to evolve antimicrobial resistance (AMR). They form persistent, hard to treat infections and exhibit an intrinsic biology that promotes the development and transmission of AMR. The goal of our consortium is to determine how bacteria adapt to antimicrobials during biofilm formation on surfaces coated with antimicrobials, how AMR mutations are acquired and evolve within mature biofilms, and how population dynamics within biofilms affect the transmission of AMR. We address the hypothesis that understanding the contribution of biofilms to AMR acquisition and spread will lead to the development of novel antimicrobial strategies and medical devices that are more effective in preventing biofilm-associated infection and AMR. Our team provides facilities and clinical research governance for experimental and translational medicine. Our synergy of leading laboratory, clinical and translational research across Europe will ensure the best chance to develop novel and successful interventions and therapeutic outcomes.

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  • Frank Schreiber, BAM-Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, Germany (Coordinator)
  • Qun Zulian Ren, Empa. Materials Science  and Technology, Switzerland (Partner)
  • Henny C van der Mei, University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands (Partner)
  • Saul Faust, University Hospital Southampton, United Kingdom (Observer)
  • Matthias Buhmann, Empa. Materials Science  and Technology, Switzerland (Observer)
  • Henk J.  Busscher, University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands (Observer)
  • Jeremy Webb, University of Southampton, United Kingdom (Partner)

Reducing the risk of infection associated with medical devices and surfaces in the healthcare setting has huge public health significance. This risk is compounded by the emergence and persistence of multi-antibiotic resistant bacteria which is considered as one of the greatest global threats to human health. Such resistance threatens the treatment of even simple infections. However, very little is known about how bacteria develop resistance on medical surfaces within which sometimes antimicrobials have been incorporated. The key mysteries are how bacteria evolve and respond dynamically to antimicrobials on such surfaces. We developed a publicly available, experimental workflow that allows to reproducibly grow biofilms and study their underlying resistance mechanisms. Our findings show that the combination of antimicrobials used within surfaces and antibiotics supplied systemically can have an important impact on selecting for resistance. Further, we identified new mechanisms that bacteria use to dynamically adapt to antibiotics when these bacteria grow on surfaces. One such mechanism is associated to the molecular machine that allows bacteria to swim (i.e. the flagellum). These novel antibiotic resistance mechanisms associated to surface growth and the combination effects of antimicrobial surfaces together with systemically applied antibiotics should be taken into consideration when evaluating new antimicrobial surfaces used in the healthcare setting and in medical devices.