Dr Julie McDonald, Lecturer, Imperial College London & the Centre for Bacterial Resistance Biology

The gastrointestinal tract acts as a reservoir of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that can spread to other parts of the body where they can cause difficult-to-treat infections (e.g. bloodstream infections). Therefore, patients would benefit from treatments that prevent or remove antibiotic-resistant pathogens from colonising their gastrointestinal tract before they go onto develop these invasive infections.

Research in the McDonald lab is aimed at understanding how the microorganisms that colonise our gastrointestinal tract (“gut microbiota”) protect us against from the intestinal colonisation with pathogens, including the antibiotic-resistant pathogens carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE). A healthy gut microbiota will outcompete pathogens for nutrients, preventing pathogen growth. A healthy gut microbiota will also produce compounds called “metabolites” that can inhibit pathogen growth. However, antibiotic treatment kills members of the gut microbiota, reducing competition for nutrients and reducing the production of inhibitory metabolites, which leads to an increase in CRE and VRE growth.

We are studying nutrient competition and inhibitory metabolite production by the healthy gut microbiota to contribute to the development of new “microbiome therapeutics”. These microbiome therapeutics may be composed of members of the gut microbiota that outcompete CRE or VRE to inhibit their growth or may include inhibitory metabolites that can inhibit CRE or VRE growth. Our lab uses a variety of complementary approaches to study gut colonisation resistance, including artificial gut models (aka “chemostat” or “Robogut” models), faecal cultures, traditional microbiology techniques, and several “omic” techniques.

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