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Initiating a Swedish research network to fill the knowledge gap on Gram-negative drug resistant bacteria - interview with Irfan Ahmad, network coordinator

In the frame of MIMS highlights World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2021

Text written by Nóra Lehotai and Irfan Ahmad.


Irfan Ahmad by Ann Kathrin SchlotterbeckIrfan Ahmad is the project leader of a Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) funded research network. The aim of the project is to connect different academic researchers working on antimicrobial systems at Umeå University and at Karolinska Institute. The network is studying the signalling pathways of bacteria, which can contribute to their intrinsic and adaptive drug resistance. They would like to bridge the knowledge gap in adaptive drug resistance and fitness properties of Gram-negative bacteria. In his role, he works as a visiting associate professor at the Department of Molecular Biology at Umeå University, associated with Prof. Bernt Erik Uhlin, the founding director of MIMS.

Picture: Irfan Ahmad. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Schlotterbeck. 


What does it mean to you: antimicrobial awareness?

Antimicrobials are drugs that kill microbes. The microbes, naturally residing in our bodies, are not harmful for us but are required to keep us healthy. However, when we apply antimicrobials, they kill everything, without differentiating between good and bad microbes. This fact points out that awareness about the action of antimicrobials is of crucial importance, and these need to be used only when it is necessary. Inefficient and inaccurate use of antimicrobials can lead to resistance in microbes* and the spread of resistance among the different microbes- says Irfan. Awareness means to me that accurate and updated knowledge and facts do exist within society and among health care providers.

*Note: Among the antimicrobial drugs, we have only a handful of antiviral drugs against a few of all viruses that cause diseases in humans. In case of antivirals, the problem is rather the lack of antiviral drugs and not the resistance in viruses.

This topic connects strongly to Irfan’s research

Acinetobacter baumannii has recently emerged as one of the most common causes of multidrug-resistant infections in hospitals in developing countries. It is especially common at intensive care units because it is a ventilator associated infection. This bacillus is resistant to most commercial drugs and causes blood (septicaemia), urinary tract and lung infections (pneumonia). Understanding the tactics and tools, this bacterium deploys to cope with stress induced by the environment and antibiotics, can help to manage and treat the infections in a better way. The research network works on to find molecular basis of drug resistance and its fitness properties under different stressful conditions in not only Acinetobacter baumannii but other Gram-negative bacteria as well, concludes Irfan.

What do you think about antibiotic use in the general public?

I think that it depends on what area of the world we are talking about. In developing countries, strict regulations are missing and people have access to antibiotics over the counter, which is very dangerous. In my opinion, this is a major cause of emerging resistant bacteria. In developed countries, the rules keep good control of access and use of antibiotics, therefore the spread of resistant bacteria and fungi is very low, outbreak of resistant bacteria is rare.

Steps and tools to fight against antibiotic resistance

Unfortunately, the spectrum of available antibiotics that can be effective against common bacterial infections is being narrowed down gradually. If the trend continues, the world may face severe outbreaks of pan-drug resistant bacteria infections in future. Irfan emphasizes that this matter should be taken seriously and needs to spread awareness at broader levels within society.

All stakeholders, lawmakers and physicians need to clearly understand about why the regulations need to be strict when it comes to antibiotics use. We have to look at this problem at global level. If we control it well in one country but not in another, that does not stop the rise of resistant bacteria and caused infections. It would be great if the information about microbes (fungi, virus, bacteria) and antimicrobial agents, when they are available at all, is included in school education.

Irfan thinks that inaccurate reporting also leads to misinformation. Keeping our hospitals extremely clean, switching various disinfectants regularly, are also key to keep these hospital infections under control and avoid outbreaks.

Another step to make is that we need to implement the same type of standard operating procedures (SOPs) worldwide so the provided information by hospitals, companies and research institutes are trustworthy and based on unified criteria.

Final thoughts

Most of our drugs against bacteria, have been discovered decades ago. The rate of bacteria gaining resistance against drugs is higher than the discovery of new antibiotics. This research area is underfunded compared to others, such as cancer research.

There are a few promising drug candidates which hopefully will become available in the coming years. However, bacteria are smart and change relatively fast to avoid the effect of antibiotics, so our best chance is still to be cautious with the use of antibiotics and avoid the rise of resistance, remarks Irfan.


The research network invites you to attend the open session of their meeting on 2 December, 2021, see details below. 

Network meeting reduced

Emmanuelle Charpentier took the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Emmanuelle has been awarded jointly with Jennifer Doudna the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. She is a former group leader at MIMS, honorary doctor at Umeå University and former visiting professor at UCMR.

Movie by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (

Battling antibiotic resistance

movie by Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, with participation of scientists from MIMS and UCMR:
Or watch the original movie on:

Research about infectious diseases:

Oliver Billker in movie of Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation:
Or watch the original movie on:

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