AI ‘knowledge engine’ game-changer for antibiotic resistance
UTS will lead a pioneering multi-institutional One Health initiative to address antimicrobial resistance. The project has secured a $1 million grant to develop an AI-powered network for surveillance and mitigation of antimicrobial resistance.
A groundbreaking project to tackle one of the world’s most pressing and complex health challenges – antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – has secured a $1 million boost. UTS will lead a consortium of 26 researchers from 14 organisations in the development of an AMR ‘knowledge engine’ capable of predicting outbreaks and informing interventions, supported by a grant from the Medical Research Future Fund.
“AMR is not a simple problem confined to health and hospital settings,” explains project Chief Investigator, UTS Professor of Infectious Disease Steven Djordjevic. “Our pets and livestock rely on many of these same medicines, so they find their way into the food chain and into the environment through animal faeces.”
If left unchecked, AMR is forecast to cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050, and add a US$100 trillion burden to health systems worldwide.
“If we truly want to track, trace and tackle AMR, we need to know how it develops and is propagated in our environment and our agricultural systems as well as through human-to-human transmission,” says Djordjevic. “It’s what’s called a One Health approach.”
Named OUTBREAK – short for One-health Understanding Through Bacterial REsistance to Antibiotics Knowledge – the team will deliver an integrated spatial and temporal map and AI-powered ‘knowledge engine’ of AMR in Australia.
“Every city, town, region and country will have a different AMR fingerprint and therefore different risks,” says Djordjevic. “Our vision, ultimately, is a worldwide AI-powered network for AMR surveillance and mitigation, led by Australian research and industry.”
By ingesting numerous data streams from people, animals and the environment and combining them with AMR science, the technology will allow anticipation of AMR outbreaks, determination of AMR origins, and evaluation of the risks and cost-effectiveness of treatments and intervention strategies for individuals and communities.
“This is an exciting initiative, with the potential to make a real difference to global health, environmental, social and economic outcomes,” says UTS Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Kate McGrath. “It’s an excellent example of the significant impact we can aspire to when we leverage our research strengths, forge strong partnerships and collaborate across disciplinary boundaries.
“The government’s strategic investment in this project recognises that it is both innovative at an international level, and that it has significant potential to have a transformative impact on health care.”
Our vision, ultimately, is a worldwide AI-powered network for AMR surveillance and mitigation, led by Australian research and industry.
Professor Steven Djordjevic
Director of the Proteomics Core Facility, Faculty of Science
OUTBREAK builds on internationally-recognised Australian research and the project is supported by 14 collaborating entities: UTS, University of South Australia, University of Wollongong, University of Newcastle, CSIRO, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), The Sax Institute, the Quadram Institute (UK), Sensing Value, Microba, Zygem (NZ), Southern-IML Pathology, Oracle, and the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District.
At its core is the whole genome sequencing (WGS) and metagenomics research undertaken over the past five years by Ausgem, the Australian Centre for Genomic Epidemiological Microbiology, a collaboration between UTS and the NSW DPI, led by Djordjevic.
From the moment we are born we are surrounded by bacteria.
These tiny organisms are everywhere, but what do we really know about their role in our lives?
The bacteria we carry are influenced by the food we eat, the animals we contact, the places we live, and since the 1930s, the medicines we use.
The modern world has been built on these medicines.
Since the introduction of antibiotics, life expectancy has doubled, and the world’s population is growing exponentially.
Antibiotics protect us from infection during childbirth, surgery, and when our immune systems aren’t working properly.
But life as we know it is at risk: bacteria are fighting back.
Every time we use an antibiotic, bacteria become better at resisting its effects.
This is known as antibiotic resistance.
Soon, nasty bacteria will not be able to be fought using the drugs we have today.
This leaves us vulnerable to serious illness and increased health costs.
To fight antibiotic resistance we need time.
Bacteria are incredibly fast adapters.
Not only do we need time to preserve the effectiveness of the medicines we currently use, but we also need time to develop new antibiotics and evaluate possible alternatives.
We must understand the problem of antibiotic resistance from a One Health perspective.
This means we look at what is happening in people, plants, animals, and the environment.
Our companion animals can receive the same types of antibiotics as us.
This increases antibiotic resistance.
Luckily for us, in Australia, the antibiotics given to food animals are different to those that are used to treat our life-threatening infections.
But antibiotic resistance marches on.
What happens to all the antibiotics humans and animals consume?
Much is passed through our bodies and enters the environment in animal and human waste.
Some manures are used to fertilise agricultural pastures.
This increases antibiotic resistance.
Major foodborne disease outbreaks come from fresh produce as well as meat.
Does the antibiotic resistance in our food and environment make its way back to us?
Even our good bacteria can harbour antibiotic resistance.
This is why we need a One Health based surveillance system.
By understanding the cycle of antibiotic resistance, we can help stop it.
A One Health approach can inform new processes and policies to preserve the medicines we have, while buying time to develop new treatments to protect our communities.
Unless we take action against antibiotic resistance, this is the new reality.
Take the One Health journey, and help the fight against AMR.
The project brings together a multidisciplinary team of scientists and medical researchers with diverse expertise in genomics, metagenomics, microbiome and computational biology, medical geography and spatial epidemiology, patient data handling, data linkage and big data, zoonotic disease, biosecurity, water treatment technologies, behavioural change and social science, risk management, pharmacy, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and health economics, policy, and law.
It is one of 10 successful projects to receive a one-year initial grant through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)’s new Frontier Health and Medical Research Program. Designed to enable detailed planning for significant research projects in the health and medical research sector, it will lay the foundation for further MRFF funding of up to $5 million to develop and deploy the new technology.
Professor Steven Djordjevic is the UTS research lead for AusGEM and a professor in the UTS ithree institute, specialising in pathogen proteomics and genomics. This research is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund.