To subdue the threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Washington State University professors work globally to train scientists and research ways to control the spread of bacteria.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a threat to animal, human and agricultural health. The professors working at the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Healthat WSU study the bacteria’s traits and methods of diffusion in countries including Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya and the United States.
“We are very interested in understanding the complex factors that are involved in perpetuating anti-microbial resistance so that we can come up with solutions for this problem,” said Doug Call, a WSU professor of veterinary microbiology and pathology. “It is a major public health issue that stretches across both human and veterinary medicine.”
Call said training regional scientists around the globe represents a major factor in the effort. They train faculty and students on-site and occasionally in Pullman. Right now they have a student from Nigeria, he said.
“The training component we are working on is to prepare researchers in these countries so a larger body of collaborators can look into the research questions as well,” Call said. “We are building their capacity to quantify antimicrobial resistance.”
The unregulated use of antibiotics represents part of the problem, Call said. It is by Darwinian nature that bacteria and fungi find new forms of resistance, and the project’s research looks for ways to slow the process.
“If you can control resistance you can extend the usefulness of the (antibiotics),” Call said. “One of our goals is to find solutions everyone can live by.”
Global trade contributes to the issue because increased costs of production bring an increase in imported goods and resistance traits, Call said. The researchers want to know what kinds of traits come in through imports so both producers and consumers can fight the pathogens and diseases.
Guy Palmer, a WSU regents professor of pathology and infectious diseases, said the mission of the Paul G. Allen School of Global Animal Health is to improve public health and human opportunity. He currently works in east Africa.
“Dr. Call’s work on antimicrobial resistance is directly tied to this goal and to our partnerships, both here in east Africa and globally,” Palmer said.
Terry McElwain, a WSU professor and executive director at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, also works in east Africa. He said the school works on projects in Kenya and Tanzania.
“We would hope that by better understanding the ‘flow’ of antibiotic resistance among animals, humans, and the environment, the projects would lead to ways of intervening in this process to prevent emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria,” McElwain said.
The project in Kenya is a collaborative effort with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Kenya Medical Research Institute and WSU, McElwain said. Researchers are assessing the affect of animal health on household assets and the health of small farmers.
The Tanzania project is focused on the transmission of disease agents from animals to humans, McElwain said. Multiple institutions including Duke University, the University of Glasgow and the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center collaborate at this site.
Palmer and McElwain will return from east Africa at the end of January. Call will travel to Tanzania in May to help on the ground with the projects.