In the fight against antimicrobial resistance, wastewater is the battleground where University at Buffalo chemist Diana Aga works.
Her research examines how sewage treatment systems help — or don’t help — to eliminate antimicrobial drugs and their remnants, called residues, from wastewater before it’s discharged into rivers and lakes.
This science is vital as the world seeks to better understand how bacteria and other microorganisms are becoming resistant to medicines, giving rise to “superbug” diseases that don’t respond to known pharmaceuticals.
As part of her efforts to advance science in this field, Aga is assisting the World Health Organization and NSF International in convening a meeting of global experts in Hamburg, Germany from May 8-9 to discuss the best methodologies for analyzing antibiotic residues in water.
The goal is to generate recommendations on topics such as which antibiotics should be measured and what technologies are available for detection, says Aga, PhD, Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Data on the levels of antimicrobials in wastewater and river water can help scientists understand not just the effectiveness of treatment technologies, but also how the drugs are being used in different parts of the world. This type of monitoring could provide insight into the quantity and type of antibiotics being consumed by humans and animals in a specific region, for example.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is also interested in Aga’s work, with Marcelo Galas, a specialist in antimicrobial resistance at PAHO, visiting UB in late April to build a relationship with Aga’s lab as the agency develops an action plan to combat antimicrobial resistance in the Caribbean and Latin America.
“PAHO is supporting the countries of the Americas region to build capacities to control the problem of antimicrobial resistance in their member states,” Galas said. “Considering that the environment is an excellent vehicle for the generation and dissemination of resistance, the collaboration with Dr. Aga and her group will complement the actions of PAHO regarding the evaluation of the presence of antibiotics, resistance genes and resistant bacteria in the environment. The partnership will advance our efforts to measure the impact of antimicrobial resistance and design strategies to control the problem.”
A need for better waste management technologies
“While traditional surveillance of antimicrobial resistance has focused on resistant bacteria from hospitals, we need to investigate the role of wastewater treatment plants and large animal facilities as potential hotspots for antimicrobial resistance,” Aga says.