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New antibiotic centre prepares for battle

With the Uppsala Antibiotic Center (UAC), Uppsala University took yet another step in the fight against accelerating antibiotic resistance. Soon, 14 doctoral students, three senior lecturers and a number of new partners will be joining the front line.

Dan Andersson is the Director of the new UAC.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

In developing countries, one child dies every two minutes from infectious diseases caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics. In Europe, 25,000 people die every year for the same reason. The situation is quickly worsening and even in the northern country of Sweden, where distance and temperature are no longer geographic protection, the disaster can be glimpsed on the horizon.

“More and more antibiotics are losing their effect, and we are careless with the ones that are left and are essentially not making any new ones. This means that mankind is facing urgent problems without any simple solutions. We can still break this trend, but it will demand both extensive resources and cross-border collaboration. We have therefore devoted a great deal of time to getting politicians to make an effort on something that might provide results only after several decades, and now we’re seeing that things are beginning to happen on both a national and global level,” says Dan I. Andersson, Professor of Medical Biochemistry at Uppsala University.

Uppsala’s many authorities and companies with expertise in the area provide the city an advanced position in the field. At Uppsala University, some 20 groups are conducting research on various aspects of antibiotics and the international network ReAct has its base here. ENABLE, the major European effort to counter the challenges of antibiotic resistance, is also run from here, and in spring 2016, the next important step was taken with the inauguration of the interdisciplinary endeavour of the Uppsala Antibiotic Center (UAC).

“The problem has grown beyond the point where we can handle it by developing a few new antibiotics. Now, we have to change behaviour, become smarter consumers and increase our understanding of how antibiotics affect the environment, at the same time that new financial incentives are needed to incite the interest of the pharmaceutical industry. The problems are simply so complex that scientific collaboration is necessary, and we’re now gathering the university’s strengths in a front line that is absolutely unique in its breadth,” says Dan I. Andersson who is also the Director of the new centre.

The Uppsala Antibiotic Center is cofinanced by the university’s three disciplinary research domains and is initially being run by four employees, but soon three associate senior lecturers, one for each disciplinary research domain, will be recruited with the aim of strengthening the expertise in strategically important fields. The interdisciplinary arrangement also comprises 14 doctoral students who will be tied to their supervisors’ departments, but will participate in several joint efforts.

“We’ve received 43 applications for the doctoral student positions, an outcome that we’re incredibly pleased with and that confirms our university’s broad expertise in and commitment to antibiotic research. Next, experts will review what ideas we will continue with to both optimise the relevance and quality of the work and create a new generation of researchers with both specialist expertise and broad understanding of the field,” says Dan I. Andersson.

The centre’s strive to bridge scientific silos also reaches beyond the university’s own corridors. Discussions are already being held with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Swedish National Veterinary Institute on conceivable partnerships. There are also ambitions concerning international collaboration, and according to Dan I. Andersson, the Uppsala Antibiotic Center is being met by great interest, which incites hope for the future.

“We currently have funding for four years, but are looking further than that and within ten years the centre should have been made permanent financially with a permanent physical home. Then, I also hope that our first doctoral students will have returned to Uppsala after having further improved for a few years abroad, and above all, that we are leaders in European antibiotic research. Uppsala University’s broad expertise in the field is accompanied by a responsibility, and with UAC, we are seeing the beginning of something really big.”

2017-01-30