Senior Researcher unravels mechanism which led to making bacteria antibiotic resistant

Dr. Gabriel Leen, Senior Research Fellow, (E&CE Dept.) has become an Affiliate by invitation of Lawrence Berkeley Lab, California, which is a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory managed by the University of California. 13 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Berkeley Lab scientists ( Dr. Leen is contributing to methodologies which are designed to carry out time resolved investigations into the physics/biology of how enzymes known as beta-lactamases cause antibiotic resistance by breaking down the antibiotics’ structure.

This is an exciting and significantly important piece of research for world health. The World Health Organisation States : “Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill”

Key facts from WHO regarding antibiotic resistance:

  • Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.
  • Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country.
  • Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
  • A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.
  • Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality[1].

The research being undertaken is challenging and involves the use of some of the world’s most sophisticated molecular imaging facilities, including the Japanese SPring-8 Angstrom Compact free electron Laser, which uses in-vacuum, short-period undulators to achieve sub-Ångstrom wavelengths of 0.6 Å at a relatively much shorter distance of 0.7 km, compared to other similar XFELs. Dr Leen will be participating in upcoming experiments being led by Prof Allen Orville, Dr. Pierre Aller, Dr. Agata Butryn and Dr. Peter Docker from Diamond Light Source, Oxfordshire, UK, at the SACLA XFEL later this year. Dr. Leen has already participated in related experiments earlier this year undertaken at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), Menlo Park, California [SLAC video].

Dr. Leen is an SFI funded researcher (grant no: 15/CDA/3598) developing novel optical fibre based sensors for scientific, industrial and medical applications; a founder of the UL spin-out company PolyPico Technologies Ltd.; and has around 100 academic publications to his name.

The Japanese X-FEL SACLA (