E.coli-focused project seeks to better adapt treatment and prevention

Taking on one of the most resistant bacterial species to better adapt prevention and treatment: that’s the mission behind the HECTOR project.

The prevalence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), one of AIGHD’s key research priorities, is increasing rapidly around the world, including AMR bacteria that live within healthy human and animal populations.

Escherichia coli is one such bacterium known to become resistant quickly, which can make it more challenging to target with antibiotics once an individual or animal is infected. E.coli lives in the intestines of humans and animals and certain strains can cause infection, which may lead to diarrhea, urinary tract infections or fever. What is not known is to what extent E.coli is host-restricted and how likely resistant E.coli can transfer between different hosts, such as humans and animals.

Some bacteria can only survive in one species, or host, for example humans, and cannot survive if transferred to another living species. Other bacteria can easily transmit between multiple hosts or living beings, such as humans and animals, making it more difficult to treat and contain. This is referred to as bacteria without host restrictions, meaning it can survive in more than one species or host.

The three-year HECTOR project is specifically investigating E.coli to determine whether the bacterium can transmit between multiple hosts. Because of the significant interaction between humans and farming, HECTOR researchers are specifically looking at chickens, pigs and cows as part of the study to determine when, if and how E.coli bacteria can be transmitted from humans to these animals and vice versa.

“By identifying the factors that contribute to E. coli host restriction and their potential association with AMR transmission and prevalence, we’ll be able to create more targeted prevention methods and treatments to reduce the impact and spread of this common bacterium,” said Prof. Constance Schultsz, project leader and AIGHD academic staff.

The project team recently gathered at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development office for their annual two-day meeting to discuss progress and map out steps for the next few months of the project.

The consortium consists of experts in the field of AMR, who work in human and animal health domains, and represent highly complementary disciplines from eight institutions including mathematicians; veterinarians; professors in clinical and veterinary microbiology, and bioinformaticians.

The group also welcomed three members of the project’s Scientific and Ethical Advisory Board: David Gally (UK), Ulrich Dobrindt (Germany) and Dik Mevius (Netherlands).

It was the first time the whole group has met face-to-face since the project kicked off last year.

The project wraps up in April 2020 and by the end, the researchers hope to have a better understanding from how likely resistant E.coli can transfer between different hosts, and how the genetic makeup of the bacterium correlates with a tendency to transmit easily.