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Release: Immediate

UI scientists lead worldwide surveillance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa is one of two research centers coordinating a worldwide surveillance program to track the escalating spread of bacteria resistant to current antibiotics.

"The need for comprehensive, international surveillance never has been more acute," says Dr. Ronald Jones, a UI College of Medicine pathologist and one of the program's chief architects. "The growing problem of global bacteria spread and antibiotic resistance, combined with competition for government funding for disease surveillance, has intensified the importance of reliable and immediate surveillance data."

Jones notes the program, Sentry Antimicrobial Surveillance, is the first global surveillance program of its kind.

"Sentry Antimicrobial Surveillance provides physicians, researchers, and public health officials with comprehensive, timely data on the most pervasive and devastating infectious human diseases, including blood stream, respiratory tract, and wound infections," he says.

Surveillance team members also will track and investigate unusual "cluster" infection outbreaks that can have disastrous consequences. Researchers at the UI College of Medicine and the Eijkman-Winkler Institute for Microbiology Infection and Inflammation at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, designed the program. It is funded by a grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, a diversified health and personal care company.

Sentry Antimicrobial Surveillance will monitor hospital (nosocomial) and community-acquired infections through a global network of 72 medical centers and outpatient facilities. During the first year of testing, a minimum of 36,000 Gram negative and Gram positive pathogens, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas, and Enterobacter, will be collected at sites in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Europe, and Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa.

Once collected and tested at the individual testing sites, these organisms will be sent to the UI College of Medicine or the Eijkman-Winkler Institute for testing and characterization.

In addition, 55 types of antibiotics will be investigated to assess antimicrobial-resistance patterns. Such comprehensive testing will enable researchers to identify emerging resistance trends, analyze antibiotic use, and assess the effects of specific drugs on bacterial infections.

In addition to Jones, fellow pathologist Dr. Michael Pfaller, and clinical microbiologist Dr. Gary Doern, serve as the UI's principal investigators for Sentry Antimicrobial Surveillance. Jones and Pfaller are veteran UI faculty members, while Doern came four months ago from the University of Massachusetts. All three scientists have played leadership roles in the project's initial months of organization and early data collection. They have been assisted by five additional research assistants employed with grant money for the surveillance project.

Pfaller says the project's value lies in its comprehensive approach and international scope. "What makes this unique is that we are not restricted to analyzing one disease, or one region, or to a select group of pathogens or antibiotic treatments."

Doern adds that the UI's leadership role in global surveillance stems from the university's "extraordinary combination of accumulated expertise in this particular field."

The UI and Eijkman-Winkler Institute will provide laboratory analyses to medical staffs at participating sites; ongoing consultation with principal investigators and international infectious disease experts; education and training in molecular epidemiology, and a visiting scientists training program.

"Bacterial infections and antimicrobial resistance are among the most challenging issues facing health care delivery systems around the world today," says Kenneth E. Weg, president of Bristol-Myers Squibb's Worldwide Medicine Group. "The World Health Organization estimates that more than 17 million people die of infectious diseases each year, with many of these acquired in hospitals."

"It is our hope that Sentry Antimicrobial Surveillance will play a major role in stemming the spread of these deadly microbes. To help achieve this, Sentry Antimicrobial Surveillance will establish close links with international infectious disease organizations and government agencies and will communicate with these groups on a regular basis."