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Global Health: Antimicrobial Resistance Tracking Programs Awarded New Funding

The National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration are awarding five years of additional funding for two national surveillance programs tracking bacterial pathogens at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.

The CVM is the only place in the United States home to both monitoring systems.  

The funding supports the global GenomeTrakr program and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) at the CVM, both overseen by Sid Thakur, director of global health at the CVM and NC State. 

The programs are vital tools in tracking and halting the spread of infectious disease outbreaks caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics, an ever-growing threat to human and animal health around the world. The CVM has been home to both programs for two years. 

Paula Cray
Paula Cray, head of the Department of Population Health and Pathobiology, speaks during a WHO meeting on antimicrobial resistance at the CVM.

Paula Cray, head of the CVM’s Department of Population Health and Pathobiology, is the co-primary investigator on both surveillance grants. For the NARMS project, Thakur collaborates with Megan Jacob, CVM associate professor of microbiology and director of diagnostic laboratories.

“The fact that we have received an additional five years of funding for both programs is a testament to our efforts,” says Thakur. “We have expanded these programs globally, and they are integral to the success of our global health program.”

GenomeTrakr, launched by the FDA in 2012, is the first network of labs to use whole genome sequencing to identify pathogens. NARMS, established in 1996 by the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and the United States Department of Agriculture, monitors drug resistance trends in bacterial strains isolated from humans, food animals and retail meats, swiftly pinpointing new emerging resistance within bacterial pathogens. 

Combating infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance are among the primary focuses of the CVM’s global health program, the program also prepares future veterinarians for their increasingly vital and varied roles in addressing evolving health challenges of the 21st century. The college is recognized as an international leader in antimicrobial resistance programs and research.

This year, the Department of Population Health and Pathobiology was named a World Health Organization collaborating center to fight global antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance is widely viewed as one of today’s biggest global health concerns as researchers work to stem the tide of drug-resistant bacterial pathogens, including common sources of foodborne illness, including strains of E. coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella.

Since 2016, GenomeTrakr laboratories at the CVM have generated more than 3,000 whole genome sequencing profiles of bacterial pathogens isolated from multiple sources, including more than 1,000 bacterial isolates from nine countries outside of the United States over the last three years. Through GenomeTrakr, the college has trained 23 students and professionals from 10 counties on advanced antimicrobial resistance surveillance and bioinformatics.

antimicrobial resistance
Antimicrobial resistance in some of the world’s most common bacterial strains is on the rise. Credit: Pexels

As part of NARMS, the CVM plays an important role in tracking AMR pathogens in retail meat in North Carolina, which ranks among the top states in pork and poultry production. NARMS can generate and compare profiles of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Enterococcus and E. coli isolated from retail meat and seafood in the state to detect the emergence of new antimicrobial-resistant strains.

Last year, Thakur helped launch a partnership with international scientists to fight antimicrobial resistance. The work is funded through the University Global Partnership Network, a partnership between the CVM, the University of Surrey in England, the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and the University of Wollongong in Australia. Thakur also continues to conduct his own antimicrobial resistance research in North Carolina and across the world.

“It’s combating something that continually challenges you to think — and think differently,” Cray said of the college’s antimicrobial resistance work in 2017. “I think this is some of the most exciting work someone can have.”

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine 

Photography for this story was taken prior to enhanced COVID-19 safety and mask protocol established for CVM faculty, staff and students, as well as the general public. 

This post was originally published in Veterinary Medicine News.