Aus researchers tackling antimicrobial resistance with AI

Thursday, 23 May, 2019

Aus researchers tackling antimicrobial resistance with AI

A multi-institutional, multimillion-dollar project to understand how antimicrobial-resistant bacteria spread, and to develop new ways to combat it, has won a $1 million grant from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Frontiers initiative.

Named OUTBREAK — short for One-health Understanding Through Bacterial REsistance to Antibiotics Knowledge — the project will see the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) lead a consortium of 26 researchers from 14 organisations in the development of an integrated spatial and temporal map and AI-powered ‘knowledge engine’ of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Australia, capable of predicting outbreaks and informing interventions. The ultimate goal is to protect Australians from antimicrobial-resistant infections, and to reduce hospital admissions and healthcare costs.

“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,” said UTS Professor Steven Djordjevic, chief investigator on the project. “It’s what’s called a One Health approach.”

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.

“Every city, town, region and country will have a different AMR fingerprint and therefore different risks,” said Prof Djordjevic. “Our vision, ultimately, is a worldwide AI-powered network for AMR surveillance and mitigation, led by Australian research and industry.”

OUTBREAK 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 Prof Djordjevic. However, the project also 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.

The project received a one-year initial grant through Stage One of the MRFF’s new Frontier Health and Medical Research Program, in addition to $1.4 million in contributions from partner organisations. It will be eligible to apply for Frontiers Stage Two, with the opportunity to secure up to $100 million over five years to realise their research plan.

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