A final year medical student from the University of Dundee has received a Young Scientist Award at a prestigious medical conference in recognition of her outstanding work on the impact of antibiotic resistance worldwide and its implications for pneumonia patients.
The European Respiratory Society made the award to Catriona Rother (24), originally from Edinburgh, at their annual congress in Barcelona, the world's largest conference of its kind. Catriona's research, which she presented at the congress, has been accepted for publication in the leading infectious diseases journal 'Clinical Infectious Diseases'.
The study was supervised by Dundee's Dr James Chalmers and performed in collaboration with Professor Santiago Ewig, Professor of Internal Medicine in Bochum, Germany and a leading international expert on pneumonia and antibiotic resistance.
'Catriona carried out this research as a 4th year medical student, and it is an extraordinary achievement for an undergraduate to undertake a study of such importance,' said Dr Chalmers. 'It is equally extraordinary for a student to receive an award of this stature.
'Antibiotic resistance is one of the UK's top priorities for research and preventing the development of antibiotic resistance is a worldwide priority. I believe this study will have major implications for policy makers and guideline writers internationally.'
Antibiotic resistance is regarded as one of the leading threats to human health worldwide and was recently described by the UK's Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Taylor as "a catastrophic threat to all of our health".
Pneumonia is the most common infection leading to death in Scottish hospitals and one of the UK's leading causes of death. Overuse of antibiotics for mild infections drives the development of antibiotic resistance and Scotland has led a campaign over recent years to limit the overuse of antibiotics.
The Dundee study investigated whether patients with pneumonia were at risk of infection from antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA that do not respond to penicillin and other antibiotics used to treat pneumonia. Reports from the United States and Asia had suggested that more than 20 per cent of pneumonia patients may be harbouring these "superbugs" and were dying because of inadequate antibiotic treatment.
Catriona studied data from over 16,000 patients worldwide and examined the risk of antibiotic resistant pathogens and death from antibiotic resistant bugs in patients deemed to be at risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as patients making frequent trips to hospital, the elderly and patients from nursing homes.
She found evidence that antibiotic resistance was increasing dramatically in some parts of the world such as Asia and the United States but that data from the UK and Europe still showed a very low frequency of MRSA and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
This is important and suggests that measures to limit overuse of antibiotics in the UK are working. The study suggests that changing our antibiotic policies to use more broad-spectrum "aggressive" antibiotic treatments, as is happening in the US and elsewhere, would be associated with more side effects and drive more antibiotic resistance but would likely not result in better outcomes for patients.