$1.35m to University researchers tackling health issues

Researchers will investigate superbugs, safer ventilators and stroke rehabilitation.

Flooded sewer
Sewers may offer a way to monitor antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Can our sewers be used to monitor the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Can augmented reality help stroke patients recover? How can we make the use of ventilators safer for patients with lung disease?

These and other questions will be investigated by scientists at the University of Auckland who have been successful applicants for $1.35m of funding from the Health Research Council’s Explorer Fund, announced today.

Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles of the Medical School, well known for her work explaining the science behind Covid-19, says, “So far studies looking at antibiotic-resistance use samples taken from people who have been to the doctor or hospital. We don’t have a clear idea of what superbugs are out there in the general public.”

Her study will delve into Auckland’s sewer network to quantify and map the level of antibiotic resistance in the community, allowing researchers to estimate levels of resistance in healthy, asymptomatic individuals as well as in those who are unwell. If successful, a similar technique could be used to map viral outbreaks such as Covid-19 at a regional level.

The study will sample hospital effluent and compare that to samples from wastewater treatment plants serving ‘healthy’ communities without a primary care facility in the catchment area.

A variety of different testing methods will be used to see which achieves the best result – for example, trying to identify the antibiotic-resistant bacteria themselves, looking for genetic material from the bacteria (similar to the test for Covid-19), or using a more ‘shotgun’ sequencing approach where all material in the sample is sequenced to see what is present.

It is possible that the researchers will end up with an archive of samples that could be analysed for all sorts of pathogens, not just antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The researchers who have been successful in the 2020 Explorer Grant funding round are:

  • Dr Meghan Hill, FMHS, The placental clock: Investigating mechanisms of stillbirth
  • Dr Haribalan Kumar, Auckland Bioengineering Institute, Continuous dynamic monitoring of lung function at     the bedside
  • Dr Benjamin Lawrence, FMHS, A collaborative AR work and presentation tool to examine tumour evolution
  • Dr Danielle Lottridge, Science, Codesign of augmented reality stroke rehabilitation from Te Whare Tapa Whā
  • Professor Anthony Phillips, Science, Lung protection during critical illness and Looking skin deep
  • Dr Simone Rodda, School of Population Health, Synthesis of a million stories with natural language processing
  • Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Sewers for superbug surveillance

Media contact

Gilbert Wong | Research communications manager
021 917 942