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Research into antibiotic resistance could help save millions of lives

The prospect of medicine being unable to treat deadly diseases is what drives Bond University Research Fellow,  Amanda McCullough.

Her research into antibiotic resistance in general practice has earnt Dr McCullough, of Bond's Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, a Bupa Health Foundation’s Emerging Health Researcher Awards finalist list.

Originally from Ireland, Dr McCullough has been in Australia for three and a half years, working on research into reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance in Australia and worldwide.

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria can resist being killed by antibiotics – medications that are used to help the body fight off bacterial infection. 

“One of the reasons why this work is so important is that by 2050, around 10 million people each year will be dying because of antibiotic resistance,” said Dr McCullough.  

The more antibiotics are used inappropriately or unnecessarily, the faster the world will be overcome by bacteria that no longer responds to our medicines.

Her research has shown that Australian general practitioners (GPs) prescribe nearly 6 million antibiotics annually, which Dr McCullough has demonstrated is 4 - 9 times as high as recommended by Australian Guidelines.

As part of her research, Dr McCullough has been reviewing the evidence on why GPs and members of the public use antibiotics and how that could be reduced for coughs, colds, flus and ear infections. She has also brought a psychologist in as well and said, “That’s a bit different to what’s often done in these things. So, I guess that is where my work is quite different in that I’ve set the benchmark, and I’m trying to close the gap.”

Dr Chris Del Mar, Professor of Public Health, nominated Dr McCullough for a Bupa Health Foundation Emerging Health Researcher Award for her driving ambition, hard focus and potential. Professor Del Mar sees the importance in the research Dr McCullough is doing and the contribution to changing the behaviour of prescribers of antibiotics. 

Professor Del Mar commented on the seriousness of antibiotic resistance and what it could look like in the future for people all around the world.

“This will be more than all cancers, it will be higher than all road traffic accidents, it will become a very serious killer. And that’s only the beginning, because after that, the problem is that it won’t be safe to do all the high-tech medicine that we take for granted now. Hip replacements, chemotherapy for cancer, stents in the heart, things where, if we can’t be sure if the antibiotic cover is effective, then it will be too dangerous to do. Medicine will be retreating back to the 1930ss,” said Professor Del Mar. 

If successfully awarded Bupa Emerging Health Researcher Award, Dr McCullough would use the funds to speed up the national roll-out of this work.

“I’ve been very impressed since she’s being working with us about her strategic positioning, to get things done,” said Professor Del Mar. 

The winner of the 2017 Bupa Health Foundation Emerging Health Researcher Award will be announced on 16 March 2018, at a breakfast event in Sydney.

The winner will be awarded $25,000 to help further their research career, while the other five finalists will each receive $5,000. 

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