Capital experts meet for talks on how to combat superbug menace

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Teams of experts from across the Capital are meeting to discuss how to combat the growing problem of infections – such as the MRSA superbug – which kill hundreds of thousands across the world.

Researchers from the umbrella group Edinburgh Infectious Diseases are gathering tomorrow to discuss how to solve the growing problem of bacteria and other diseases becoming resistant to the medicines used to treat them.

The event at Edinburgh University will showcase new tools to speed up the diagnosis of diseases, so that they can be treated appropriately and antibiotics can be spared when they are not needed.

Teams will also showcase alternative approaches to controlling infections that help to cut back on antibiotic use.

Experts will tackle questions such as how resistance arises, so that they can devise strategies to prevent it from occurring.

Scientists will also discuss how best to track infections when they emerge, so that resources can be deployed to stop them from spreading.

Professor J Ross Fitzgerald, director of Edinburgh Infectious Diseases at The Roslin Institute said: “The majority of our members are from the University of Edinburgh but it includes NHS Lothian, the Moredun Research Institute and other universities like Napier and Heriot Watt – it’s across the whole city.

“We have ongoing projects to develop imaging techniques which will allow us to diagnose infections at a very early stage without having to culture or grow the pathogens themselves.

“The plan is that this will come into clinical use in the short-term within the next few years.

“Trials are being planned at the moment on human volunteers.

“These will be patients who have infections and they would give permission to carry out these diagnostic tests in order to demonstrate that they work effectively.”

He added: “It’s the bacteria themselves that are acquiring resistance to the antibiotics – over the years we’ve obviously been using antibiotics for human health and also in veterinary health and agriculture.

“The bacteria are evolving resistance to the antibiotics and therefore it’s becoming a big problem for human health.

“More people are dying from bacterial infections for which the antibiotics don’t work any more and if we don’t do something about it now – the situation is just going to get worse and worse.”

“So what we need to do is have a multi-pronged approach to addressing the global issues.

“One of the ways we can do that is by having better diagnostics.”

Antibiotics have been used for more than 80 years as an effective treatment for bacterial infections but they do not work against viruses such as the common cold or flu.

Repeated and improper use of antibiotics is driving bacteria to develop resistance to the drugs – which means bacteria are no longer killed by them.

Researchers are worried because strains of bacteria have emerged that are resistant even to medicines that are reserved for use as a last resort.

kevan.christie@jpress.co.uk