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Emerging technologies in the battle against infectious diseases

Researchers focusing efforts on the microbiome, antimicrobial resistant organisms, and more
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The takeaway: COVID-19 and monkeypox were only the most recent global trials that showed the importance of infectious disease surveillance and response. IDT plays a key role in those efforts, and emerging technologies in the fight against infectious disease were on display at a recent global conference.

Emerging technologies are helping in the effort to monitor and respond to infectious diseases in all corners of the globe. These technologies can help infectious disease experts detect when trouble occurs and respond to it to safeguard communities. They are playing crucial roles as researches seek to learn how to control infectious diseases.

But choosing which technology to utilize is a complex decision that involves evaluating factors such as effectiveness, safety, cost, scalability, and regulatory requirements. Recently, researchers from around the world converged in Denmark at ECCMID 2023, the 33rd European Conference of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Attendees learned about available solutions and discussed the process of using new technologies to conduct feasibility studies, clinical trials, and cost-benefit analyses to determine the potential benefits and drawbacks of each technology. Additionally, scientists had the opportunity to collaborate with industry partners to develop and commercialize the most promising technologies. Industry partners can provide funding, expertise, and resources to help bring new technologies to market.

The microbiome as an integral part of infectious disease research

The microbiome is key to many of these interesting new technologies, and microbiomes today are as fascinating as they were 20 years ago. Now, however, researchers harness their benefits to benchmark across countries, age, sex, diet, and more. With the increased understanding of the microbiome, scientists today have a much deeper appreciation of the composition and diversity of the microbiome in humans and other organisms. This has led to the discovery of new microbial species and functions, and a greater grasp of how the microbiome impacts health and disease, which is now followed through disease cases and shows that alteration of the gastric microbiota takes place during carcinogenesis.

One mechanism by which the microbiome may contribute to carcinogenesis is through the production of toxins or other harmful substances that can damage DNA or promote inflammation, both of which are known to increase the risk of cancer. Additionally, the microbiome may influence the activity of immune cells that can help to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. Utilizing the accumulation of data through cohorts and throughout time, monitoring microbiota in disease states not only can show clinical implications but can also be followed and associated to diets, especially the Mediterranean diets and fiber intakes.

Research in this area is still in its early stages, and much remains to be learned about the complex interactions between the microbiome and carcinogenesis. However, this emerging field holds promise for developing new strategies for cancer prevention and treatment based on manipulating the composition and activity of the microbiome.

Antimicrobial resistant organisms—Finding the most productive treatment options

Another hot topic of the microbiology society at ECCMID are specialized in epidemiology and surveillance of very specific species and concern that some mutations of evolution result in drug-resistant enteric pathogens.

One way that epidemiologists study antimicrobial resistant organisms (AMRs) is by monitoring their prevalence and distribution in different populations and geographic regions. This involves collecting data on the number of cases of infections caused by AMRs and tracking how these infections spread over time. With the emergence of COVID-19, epidemiologists diverted some resources toward monitoring and tracking COVID-19 cases, but many public health agencies continued to monitor AMRs as well.

AMR organisms are creating issues in ICUs, hospitals, and other places. The impact of those infections on our lives can be drastic and needs to be followed closely. Reducing the burden of AMRs and guidance on how to automate is one of the predominant themes at ECCMID. Resistance in the “One Health” perspective demonstrates patterns of transmission and how to avoid them, but also how it should be monitored. More attention is needed to monitor global spread and interracial high risk of multidrug resistant bacteria, but another important aspect of studying AMRs is understanding the risk factors that contribute to their emergence and spread. This includes identifying the types of antimicrobial agents that are commonly used in different settings, such as hospitals or farms, and how these practices may contribute to the development of AMRs. Epidemiologists may also study the genetics of AMRs to understand how they develop resistance to antibiotics and how this resistance can be transmitted from one organism to another.

These researchers are also looking for new methods of identifying AMR pathogens so that the most productive treatment options are employed as soon as possible. There is interest in moving from traditional culture methods to molecular diagnostic methods. These non-culture methods offer advantages such as being more amenable to automation, having a faster turn-around time, and being often able to identify a lower abundance of pathogens.

New frontiers in disease surveillance: Developing effective lab networks to track pathogen globally

The study of AMRs is a complex and multi-disciplinary field that involves input from epidemiologists, microbiologists, clinicians, and public health officials. While the COVID-19 pandemic, which was one of the best recent examples of infectious disease, certainly had an impact on the work of epidemiologists in this area, the study of AMRs remains an important public health priority. Many laboratory networks are being developed to track pathogen activity worldwide. This will promote the development of global databases that can be used as a surveillance tool to monitor outbreaks and help public health officials identify impacted areas so they can better focus resources to combat these pathogens. As part of public surveillance efforts, scientists are researching new methods for sample collection which use less invasive methods. These are more amenable to large population studies and lower the burden of sample collection.

In addition, epidemiologists are becoming involved in developing strategies to prevent and control the spread of AMRs and may also add new techniques to monitor wastewater. This can include developing guidelines for appropriate antibiotic use, improving infection prevention and control measures in healthcare settings, and working with policymakers to promote responsible antibiotic use in agriculture and other industries.

As IDT, we are always present in supporting scientists from important communities like this one, as it is affecting our day-to-day lives, and we are proud of our efforts to support global research to improve health and reduce the burden of disease.

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