UCL solutions to antimicrobial resistance demonstrated in MP visit

MPs visit UCL lab
MPs visit UCL lab

MPs from the House of Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee visited UCL laboratories this week to learn about innovative solutions to the global challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

MPs and Committee members Stephen Metcalfe and Carol Monaghan visited three UCL labs on Wednesday 17 May. The visit related to a recent inquiry by the committee into the antimicrobial potential of bacteriophages, which could be used instead of, or alongside antibiotics. Bacteriophages (or ’phages’) are viruses that kill bacteria.

Professor Joanne Santini (UCL Structural & Molecular Biology), a leading expert in the study of bacteriophages, recently submitted evidence to an inquiry by the committee, prompting the MPs to visit campus to learn more about phages and their potential clinical uses. She hosted the MPs at her lab alongside her colleague Professor Sarah Edwards (UCL Science, Technology, Engineering & Public Policy).

Professor Santini said: "The rise of antimicrobial resistance has led to a renewed interest in the use of bacteriophages as viable treatments for human and animal infections. While phages have been used as antimicrobials for over 100 years, their use in the UK has been stymiedáby the lack of dedicated support and funding, suitable infrastructure for their production, and lack of detailed regulatory guidance recognising the unique opportunities and challenges of the technology as a medical treatment.

"I am hopeful that this inquiry will result in a clearer and supportive regulatory environment and that essential investment be committed to enable phage research to become a viable option in the treatment of infections caused by antimicrobial resistant bacteria."

After visiting Professor Santini’s lab, the committee members visited the Cryo-EM facility at the Institute for Structural and Molecular Biology, a joint initiative between UCL and Birkbeck, University of London. Cryo-EM enables imaging of frozen-hydrated specimens in their native state without the need for dyes or fixatives, allowing the study of fine cellular structures, viruses and macromolecular complexes. Hardware and software advances have supported spectacular progress, so that the method is now often sufficient to determine structures to atomic resolution, and to sort out conformational variations.

The third part of the visit was to the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children, a partnership between UCL, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. The Centre, opened in 2019, brings together pioneering research and world-leading clinical care to drive new tests, treatments and cures for children with rare and complex diseases from lab bench to bedside, focusing on advancing genomics and bioinformatic expertise, pioneering cell and gene therapy approaches, and developing new regenerative medicine therapies.

Professor Geraint Rees, UCL Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement) jointly hosted the MPs, and commented: "This has been a fantastic opportunity to showcase some of the cutting-edge research going on at UCL, including collaborative work with our partners at GOSH and Birkbeck. It was a pleasure to speak with MPs about the pivotal role that universities like UCL play in global research and innovation, in education, and in supporting our London communities."

UCL-led written evidence to the inquiry , by Professors Santini and Edwards alongside Dr Giovanni Satta (UCL Infection & Immunity and UCLH), Professor Peter Taylor (UCL School of Pharmacy) and Professor David Moore (UCLH)

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