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New front for antibiotics research

6 March 2018

The interdisciplinary doctoral programme is the core of operations at Uppsala Antibiotic Center.

“I’ve found my dream job,” says Annabel Ekberg, one of fourteen doctoral students who have come together at Uppsala Antibiotic Center (UAC), Uppsala University’s latest initiative within the field of antibiotics. She and the other doctoral students are going to tackle the global problems linked to increasing antibiotic resistance in a variety of ways.

“Uppsala Antibiotic Center is a very exciting environment to be in. Accelerating antibiotic resistance is a global threat that no walls can protect us against. If the human race is to survive, international collaboration is the only way forward and at the moment, Uppsala is a hub for a number of interesting initiatives.”

Christer Malmberg is one of fourteen doctoral students at UAC, Uppsala University’s latest and largest initiative within the field of antibiotics. Since early October, he has literally been right at the centre of events. From his desk in the Gradientech building, he has a view over Uppsala Science Park and the rooftops of Uppsala University Hospital. The geographical location of the new centre is in Uppsala University’s biomedical centre which is located on the other side of the Dag Hammarskjöld road.

“The purpose of my doctoral project is to develop faster diagnostics for antibiotic resistance in conjunction with blood infections. Thanks to the holistic approach of UAC, I can get input and inspiration from the academic community, healthcare sector and industry and that is an enormous asset,” says Christer Malmberg.

“The time when we could solve problems simply with new antibiotics has been long gone. Today we must increase our understanding, change our behaviour and become wiser consumers. Moreover, economic incentives are needed to arouse the interest of the pharmaceutical industry. Quite simply, the situation has now become so complex that scientific collaboration is essential. At UAC, we combine the strengths of Uppsala University in a frontline whose breadth is quite unique,” says Dan I. Andersson, director of the centre and professor of medical bacteriology.

Linguists are analysing healthcare conversations

At Campus Engelska parken, Klara Bertils is working on her doctoral study of how conversations between healthcare staff and patients with respiratory infections can influence the prescribing of antibiotics. This linguistic element will perhaps add a somewhat exotic touch to UAC’s otherwise primarily medical context, or would it be more correct to emphasise Klara Bertils’ affiliation to the Department of Linguistics and Philology, her “home department”?

“My everyday work is among linguists but I find the interdisciplinary environment at Uppsala Antibiotic Center just as inspiring. There are some really sharp people there who are interested in what humanistic perspectives and methods can contribute to tackling the problem of antibiotic resistance,” says Klara Bertils.

From the left: project coordinator Linus Sandegren with doctoral students Annabel Ekberg, Klara Bertils and Christer Malmberg.

Through this interdisciplinary meeting of minds, Uppsala University wants to foster a new generation of researchers who are able to understand and tackle the full extent of the problem of antibiotic resistance. Now that the fourteen doctoral students are in place at nine different departments, it’s time for the next step - the recruitment of associate senior lecturers for each of the university’s three disciplinary research domains.

“The doctoral programme is the core of our activities and the senior lecturers will enable us to strengthen our strategic research environments even more.
 These are long-term investments and the process must be given the time needed but we reckon on the lecturers being in place sometime during 2018. We are also discussing ways of increasing collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and the National Veterinary Institute (SVA). In the long run, more players will need to be brought on-board, from other sectors and other countries,” says Linus Sandegren, senior lecturer at the department of medical biochemistry and microbiology and project coordinator at UAC.

Pharmacist and part-time doctoral student

“I’ve found my dream job,” says Annabel Ekberg. In October last year, she became a part-time doctoral student with links to Uppsala University Hospital, the university’s department of medical sciences and the Strama Region Uppsala network. Through her profession as a clinical pharmacist, she has long experience of antibiotic-related challenges but it was not until UAC advertised its activities that the perfect opportunity for her presented itself.

“I want to combine my interest in antibiotics with clinical practice and research in an international context. This team offers me all of that. Gathering people and knowledge from all over the world really enriches academic discussions. After just a few meetings, you can really feel the energy. For my thesis, I am going to study how different interventions affect the prescribing of antibiotics within inpatient care in Sweden. Studies that have been done abroad show that it is possible to make a difference and this project has generated a lot of interest at Uppsala University Hospital’s infection clinic.

Joint graduate school with Groningen

During the spring, the centre will be organising a number of seminars and workshops.
 The guest list will include the centre’s own doctoral students and researchers and experts from other higher education institutions in Sweden. Later on, national boundaries will be bridged via a joint graduate school with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

“I hope that my years as a doctoral student will increase my interdisciplinary awareness,” says Christer Malmberg. “As a civil engineer, I tend to see everything from a technical point of view and I focus on direct solutions but there are no simple answers when it comes to antibiotic resistance. First we must understand the whole picture and I think Uppsala Antibiotic Center has the necessary preconditions to become a “nursery” for precisely that type of problem-solver.”

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Facts:

Uppsala Antibiotic Center was inaugurated in the spring of 2016 at Uppsala University. It is co-funded by the university’s three disciplinary research domains and Uppsala University, Läkemedelsindustriföreningen (the trade organisation for Sweden’s pharmaceutical industry), the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and the National Veterinary Institute (SVA) are represented on its board.