Antimicrobial Resistance: A Global Problem

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Antimicrobial Resistance: A Global Problem

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, and other microorganisms, develop mechanisms that protect them from the effects of antimicrobial agents. All classes of microbes can evolve resistance; it is a natural evolutionary response that has been accelerated by the use of antimicrobial agents in humans and other animals.  Effective treatment of disease caused by resistant strains – sometimes described as “superbugs” – can be challenging.  Indeed, such microbes can cause persistent infection, spread of disease and even death of the infected hosts.

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published their 6th revision of “Critically Important Antimicrobials for Human Medicine”, to help formulate risk assessment and risk management strategies for containing AMR. It lists “Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials” including cephalosporins, glycopeptides, macrolides, polymyxins and quinolones.  The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has also published an updated categorisation of antibiotics used in veterinary medicine, categorized according to the risk of AMR in humans associated with their use.  Antibiotic use in livestock is essential to treat infection and ensure animal welfare, but the risks of AMR development must be carefully managed. 

At Don Whitley Scientific (DWS), we are very much involved in these endeavours.  Our microbiology laboratory specializes in antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) of bacteria and fungi and has a culture collection of > 15,000 strains from humans, food-producing animals and pets.  Many of our clients are veterinary pharmaceutical companies, which develop antibiotics for use in livestock species.  To obtain marketing authorization for these agents, the effects and risks associated with their presence in the food chain must be thoroughly assessed.  Studies performed in our laboratory examine the efficacy of antimicrobials against the target pathogens (isolated from animal hosts), the potential for AMR development in these pathogens and the effects of antimicrobial residues (consumed in foods of animal origin) on bacteria present in the normal healthy intestinal microbiota of humans.  All of these studies can be conducted in accordance with Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) so they can be used in applications for marketing authorizations of antimicrobial products around the world.

The WHO has developed a five-point Global Action plan (GAP) on AMR to improve awareness, strengthen surveillance and research, reduce the incidence of infection, optimise the use of antibiotics in humans and animals and encourage investment into new interventions (medicines, diagnostic tools and vaccines).  This plan has been adopted by the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health and was endorsed by political leaders at a United Nations General Assembly in 2016.

Implementation of the GAP is not without challenges, particularly for developing countries, but work must continue to fulfil its objectives if we are to maintain the efficacy of antimicrobial agents and avert potential human health crises.  At DWS, we are proud to offer microbiological laboratory services that contribute to this effort.

For further information regarding our Contract Microbiology Lab please visit our website, contact us via, or fill out the form below.


  1. World Health Organisation. Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial resistance. 1 January 2016.


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