CAHF funds support AMR research

Dr. Joe Rubin (third from right) and members of his research team. Submitted photo.

Funding received from the Companion Animal Health Fund (CAHF) has become a cornerstone of support for Dr. Joe Rubin’s research into antimicrobial resistance.

This research area has broad implications for both human and animal health. The rise of antimicrobial resistance – in which commonly-used drugs to treat bacterial infections no longer work – is influencing the way veterinarians and human doctors treat their patients.

Rubin, who graduated from WCVM in 2007, began his PhD research into the subject of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) the same year. During his program, he studied methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and the risk of transmission between dogs and people. Around the same time, Saskatoon-area veterinarians and researchers were seeing AMR more and more commonly in bacteria infecting companion animals.

It was the perfect opportunity for Rubin’s PhD research to arise from these local outbreaks. “The question that I had was how common is methicillin resistance?” Rubin says, whose research work helped to establish a baseline for future S. aureus surveillance and resistance monitoring.

S. aureus is a gram-positive bacterium that is commonly found in people’s noses and in the intestines or mucous membranes of dogs. Methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA) is resistant to an entire class of antibiotics known as beta-lactams – “some of the most important drugs that we have in both human and veterinary medicine.”

While MRSA is always resistant to all beta-lactams, it’s also often resistant to other classes of antimicrobial drugs. This multi-drug resistance means that the lack of treatment options is becoming a major problem, says Rubin.

The CAHF has provided ongoing funding for his work, beginning with two initial research grants for surveillance studies.

Using this funding, Rubin’s research team collected bacterial isolates and created an archive of strains for their research. The team’s initial findings helped to generate further questions as well as additional grant proposals that supported the team’s next steps.

“[We’re] trying to come up with some solutions or strategies for vets to better use antimicrobials and also for diagnostic labs to provide the most useful data that they possibly can,” says Rubin.

Funding from the pharmaceutical company Zoetis has allowed Rubin’s laboratory to examine resistance to tetracycline, an antibiotic used to fight bacterial infections.

This work was incorporated into Rubin’s research funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Discovery Grant program. Members of his team are also examining resistance to sulfonamide antimicrobial drugs, and grant funding received from the CAHF will be topped up by more money from NSERC.

“It’s really widened into this much broader program than what we initially realized,” he says.

Rubin credits the CAHF for its support of relevant research as well as valuable student training opportunities.

“It’s bringing new vets into companion animal health research. It’s allowed us to detect and describe the emergence of resistance,” he says.

Based on their research efforts, Rubin and his colleagues hope to develop new strategies for antibiotic use that will help veterinarians use the drugs more effectively, “both to prevent the emergence of resistance and to give more therapeutic options.”

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