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Iowa State, University of Iowa Partners In New Center Focused On Antibiotic Resistance Research

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo
Antibiotics cannot be used to promote growth in livestock, but they are still used to prevent as well as treat disease.

When bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, people can end up with infections that don’t respond to available medicines. Now Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and other partners are creating the Institute for Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education. The goal is to bring together human, animal and environmental studies of antibiotic use and resistance.

“Any use of antibiotics selects for resistance, and so even when we use antibiotics prudently, there is still the significant potential for that resistance to develop,” said Paul Plummer, an Iowa State professor of veterinary medicine who will be the executive director of the new center in Ames. “And that has consequences.”

He said policy recommendations need to account for appropriate dosing, for example. An across-the-board demand that fewer antibiotics be used could lead to under-dosing, which often allows bacteria to adapt and become resistant.

The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges selected the Iowa State collaboration from among nine proposals. Additional partners include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and the Mayo Clinic.

Plummer said the center’s focus on collating studies from livestock, human health, pets and the environment will be consistent with the One Health concept, which is a global effort to foster interdisciplinary collaboration in health and medicine.

“We have to acknowledge that antimicrobial resistance is an issue that impacts all of us and because of that we all have to evaluate how we use antibiotics appropriately,” he said.

Iowa State and the University of Nebraska will provide initial funding of nearly $1.6 million over the first three years. Plummer is hopeful additional collaborators will come on board, and the founders intend to seek additional funding from federal and philanthropic sources.

"I see this as a way to maybe build bridges instead of fences," said James Johnson, an infectious disease physician and professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Johnson applauds the universities for their financial investment and said the location within a veterinary medical school might help farmers and veterinarians feel more integral to the overall effort. 

"When it's coming from inside, I see there's much more opportunity for buy-in, participation, and asking relevant questions," Johnson said, "and maybe doing more, in fact, relevant and ultimately productive research."

Johnson said there's consensus in the community of people working on antibiotic research that a national umbrella organization is needed, but no one has ever put up funding or other resources to make that happen. 

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames