UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


New £4m digital hub to tackle antimicrobial resistance

15 June 2023

A new digital health hub, led by UCL researchers, will bring together an interdisciplinary team to better deploy digital technologies in the fight against antimicrobial resistance across humans, animals and the environment.

Antimicrobial susceptibility testing

Antimicrobial resistance cuts across many sectors, as resistant pathogens can be transmitted between animals, humans and food, but this interconnectedness is poorly understood and data remains in silos.

The new Digital Health Hub for Antimicrobial Resistance, awarded £4 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to increase knowledge and skills sharing among diverse groups, from researchers and healthcare workers to those working in animal health and environmental agencies, to policymakers, charities, industry and the public. It seeks to transform surveillance of and action against antimicrobial resistance by harnessing digital technologies that played such a key role during the pandemic.

Lead Investigator and Hub Director Professor Rachel McKendry (London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL and UCL Division of Medicine) said: “Antimicrobial resistance ranks among the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity, and has been called the ‘silent pandemic’. Our EPSRC digital health hub will bring together a brilliant team of interdisciplinary researchers to explore the enormous potential of digital health for one-health antimicrobial resistance, and currently siloed data sets spanning humans, animals and the environment.”

Professor Laura Shallcross (UCL Institute of Health Informatics), Co-Investigator and Deputy Director, said: “Antimicrobial resistance causes more deaths worldwide than HIV and malaria. This project represents a fantastic opportunity to bring scientists, industry experts, health and social care workers, and policymakers together to tackle this global public health priority by harnessing the potential of data and digital technologies.”

A three-year hub programme will encompass a number of projects, for instance the research foundations of a trusted-research environment for one-health antimicrobial surveillance data; a machine learning tool that can identify hospitalised patients who need a change in antibiotic therapy in real time; a dashboard for clinicians that can visualise data on resistant pathogens obtained from wastewater in Wales; nanodiamond sensors that can detect resistant pathogens at incredible sensitivity; and a project exploring if online search data can predict antibiotic use.

The hub will also focus on upskilling and capacity building of large numbers of researchers, with a flexible funding programme aiming to encourage new collaborations. It will bring together researchers working across computer science, data visualisation, biomedical engineering, behavioural science, environmental science, clinical and public health research.

Professor David Jones, Co-Investigator and Deputy Director based at Bangor University, said: “At the moment, the antimicrobial resistance picture is still quite fragmented. This digital health hub will bring together datasets and the stakeholder community to produce new and integrated solutions to help tackle the rise of antimicrobial resistance.”

The hub is one of five new digital healthcare hubs in England that aim to drive the development of innovative digital technologies for healthcare, created with £16.5 million funding from EPSRC.

The UCL co-investigators are based across various disciplines including Professor Laura Shallcross (UCL Institute of Health Informatics), Professor Ingemar Cox (UCL Computer Science), Professor James Hetherington (UCL Centre for Advanced Research Computing), Dr Fabiana Lorencatto (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences), Professor Bill Lampos (UCL Computer Science), Dr Jo Gibbs (UCL Institute for Global Health), Associate Professor Steven Gray (Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL), and Professor Eleni Nastouli (UCL GOS Institute of Child Health; UCL Hospital).

Antimicrobial resistance refers to when microorganisms (such as bacteria) change over time and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat. Antimicrobials underpin modern medicine and play a vital role in treating infectious diseases and prevention. However due to antimicrobial resistance, microorganisms that once were treatable with front-line antimicrobials are becoming more difficult to treat, risking disease spread, prolonged severe illness and death. Of particular concern is the rapid global spread of multi- and pan-resistant bacteria (‘superbugs’) which cause infections that are not treatable.



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Mark Greaves

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E: m.greaves [at] ucl.ac.uk