UTHealth celebrates launch of collaborative superbug research center

Published: December 16, 2016 by Hannah Rhodes

Earlier this year, the United Nations designated antibiotic resistance as a global health priority and emphasized that collaboration would be key to slowing the spread of deadly superbugs. With that in mind, Cesar Arias, M.D., Ph.D., was already at work forming the Center for Antimicrobial Resistance and Microbial Genomics (CARMiG) at UTHealth, a multi-institutional effort to combat the global threat of antibiotic resistance.

UTHealth celebrates launch of collaborative superbug research center
Cesar A. Arias, MD, PhD

Arias was also recently named chair of the newly-formed Gulf Coast Consortia – Antimicrobial Resistance Cluster, an inter-institutional cooperative with a focus on building strong collaborative research groups and interdisciplinary training opportunities for Ph.D. and postdoctoral students.

“If the problem continues at this pace, we’re going to have a huge loss of life and economic output. It’s tremendously urgent for us to step up and do something about it,” Arias said during the opening ceremony for the new center on Nov. 29.

A number of local and global leaders praised Arias and UTHealth for the collaborative nature of the center and how it can help address a complex problem. Remarks were made during the opening ceremony by representatives from Rice University, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Methodist, Universidad El Bosque in Colombia and the British Consulate General.

“I think that we all can be proud, Cesar, of what you your team have accomplished and will accomplish with this new center,” said Barbara J. Stoll, M.D., dean of McGovern Medical School and H. Wayne Hightower Distinguished Professor in the Medical Sciences.

A common theme of the evening was the complexity of addressing antibiotic resistance. Keynote speaker Arjun Srinivasan M.D., associate director for Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), described the lack of cleanliness in hospital environments, overprescribing of antibiotics, lack of new antibiotics on the market and animal growth hormone use among farmers as the major causes of antibiotic resistance.

“About a third of all the antibiotics that we use, whether that is in emergency departments, outpatient clinics, hospitals or nursing homes, is completely unnecessary. They [illnesses] go away on their own without any detrimental effects to the patients,” said Srinivasan.

According to the CDC, 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the United States each year and 23,000 of those infections lead to death. Srinivasan emphasized that behind these statistics lie individual tragedies.

Following the keynote address, filmmaker Michael Graziano presented the Netflix documentary “Resistance,” which he produced and directed. The film showed the personal stories of people whose lives were suddenly and detrimentally affected by antibiotic resistance. Among the stories was that of a teenager whose father took him to the hospital for what was originally thought to be pneumonia. Within days, his son was in a coma and not responding to antibiotics. The boy survived, but he is still on the road to recovery. The film also explored Denmark’s success in working with farmers to reduce the use of antibiotic growth hormones.

Collaboration is essential to improving the future of global health care, according to Michael Blackburn, Ph.D., executive vice president and chief academic officer at UTHealth.

“Take advantage of the momentum that is established by these new centers, these new collaborative projects, to really work with one another to do what you already do, except to do more of it,” Blackburn said to attendees.

CARMiG will host an Antibiotic Resistance Symposium: Novel Frontiers in Antimicrobial Research Jan. 19 – 20 at the BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC) Building Auditorium, 1st Floor, 6500 Main St. For more information about the event, abstract submission and registration, contact smtomlin@rice.edurosa.gonzalez@uth.tmc.edu or visit CARMiG.net.

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