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Study to target antibiotic resistant bacteria’s Achilles heel

Project awarded $588,098 in NHMRC funding announcements

A study led by researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW) could lead to a new weapon in the fight against antibiotic resistance, one of the great health challenges facing the world today.

The project, which brings together scientists from UOW’s Molecular Horizons with researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Technology Sydney, has been awarded National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grant funding of $588,098.

Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, announced the NHMRC grants today, Wednesday 12 December.

Antimicrobial medications, such as antibiotics, have transformed human health and saved millions of lives. However, their widespread use has led to the emergence of antimicrobial resistance that poses a potentially catastrophic threat to public health.

Antimicrobial resistance is when microbes become resistant to the effects of medications that could previously be used to successfully treat them.

Chief investigator Dr Andrew Robinson, from Molecular Horizons and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, said a new understanding of how bacteria survive antibiotic treatment had opened up a promising new line of attack.

“We desperately need new drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Dr Robinson said.

“Promisingly, recent studies have revealed an Achilles heel – many antibiotic-resistant bacteria depend on DNA repair enzymes to survive antibiotic treatment.

“We have an immediate opportunity to capitalise on these discoveries. If we can find ways to shut down these repair pathways, we should be able to re-sensitise resistant bacteria to antibiotics.”

The research team brings together expertise in single-molecule microscopy, genetics and genome analysis. The study is a great example of the mission of Molecular Horizons: bringing together teams of researchers from different disciplines and use cutting-edge technology to solve challenging health problems.

“Using specially designed growth chambers and cutting-edge microscopes, we will pinpoint the exact repair process that allows cells to survive and identify ways to stop it,” Dr Robinson said.

“This research will pave the way for new anti-repair drugs that can be used to kill resistant bacteria.”


The molecular life sciences are at the forefront of scientific discovery, unlocking the innermost secrets of the cell and developing new ways to detect and attack disease. If cancer is to be cured, new classes of antibiotics developed, and Alzheimer’s disease reversed it will most likely be biochemists and molecular biologists powering these breakthroughs.

UOW’s new $80 million research facility Molecular Horizons will be dedicated to making this happen – illuminating how life works at a molecular level and solving some of the biggest health challenges facing the world.

To enable this world-leading research UOW is investing in a suite of revolutionary technology including Australia’s most powerful biological electron microscope, the Titan Krios cryo-EM microscope. The Molecular Horizons Building demonstrates UOW’s commitment to impact-driven research where the world’s best molecular research will be put into practice to improve and save lives.