Milken Institute School of Public Health Receives $3 Million Grant to Study Impacts of Limiting Antimicrobial Drug Use in Livestock

WASHINGTON, DC (June 13, 2018)— The Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University (Milken Institute SPH) today announced it has received a $3.1 million (£2.74 million) grant from the Wellcome Trust to study the impacts of California’s new legislation limiting the use of antimicrobial drugs given to livestock raised in the state. Wellcome awarded the grant to Lance Price, PhD, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and the director of the school’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (ARAC). This grant builds upon a pilot study funded by Wellcome in 2017.

“Overuse of antibiotics contributes to antimicrobial resistance and is a growing threat to human health worldwide. In the U.S., approximately 70 percent of antibiotics are sold for use in livestock,” said Price, who will serve as the study’s principle investigator. “Research demonstrates clear links between antimicrobial use in poultry and human antibiotic-resistant infections. The bacteria we are studying, E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter, can be found in a substantial percentage of retail meat sold in the U.S. and are frequent causes of human foodborne infections.” 

California’s new law regulating the use of antibiotics in food animals took effect on January 1. The law is the first in the United States to ban uses of antibiotics for routine disease prevention in food animal production. In January 2017, initial U.S. regulations went into effect that banned growth promotion uses of antibiotics and removed over-the-counter approvals for antibiotics in feed and water.

“This grant enables us to study the legislation’s effect on foodborne bacteria known to cause infections in humans due to preparation and consumption of all major types of meat:  chicken, turkey, pork and beef. The data we collect will be crucial for establishing the legislation’s impact,” Price said.

“We know that addressing inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans and animals is critical to stopping superbugs. But we need to build deeper global understanding of how these deadly, drug-resistant infections emerge and spread. In many countries, giving antibiotics to animals who are not sick – to prevent disease or as growth promoters – is still widespread,” said Tim Jinks, Head of Wellcome’s Drug-Resistant Infections Priority Programme. “This research will help build the farm-to-table evidence needed on the spread of superbugs from animals to humans through the food chain. Wellcome is committed to utilising surveillance globally to inform both public behaviour and drive policy change needed to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use.”

The new research will benefit from and complement work already underway in a project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that Price is leading. Through this first-of-its-kind study, Price’s team is testing both retail chicken purchased in Southern California and human biological samples collected through Kaiser Permanente of Southern California for antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria.

“The NIH study focuses on the policy’s effects on antibiotic resistant E. coli in retail chicken,” said Cindy Liu, MD, MPH, PhD, an associate professor in the Milken Institute SPH Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and ARAC’s chief medical officer. “Wellcome’s funding enables us to extend this study to encompass all major meat types and two additional bacteria; Campylobacter and Salmonella associated with foodborne illness and antibiotic-resistant infections. This is an important expansion of the NIH study that will allow us to more broadly sample the retail meat and poultry available to California consumers and therefore, more effectively study the impact the policy on antibiotic-resistant infections in California residents.”

In addition to Drs. Price and Liu, the research team includes scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Kaiser Permanente, Johns Hopkins University and University of California, Berkeley.

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About Wellcome Trust

Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate. To find out more about Wellcome’s Drug-resistant Infections Priority Programme visit: https://wellcome.ac.uk/what-we-do/our-work/drug-resistant-infections

About Milken Institute School of Public Health

Established in July 1997 as the School of Public Health and Health Services, Milken Institute School of Public Health is the only school of public health in the nation’s capital. Today, more than 1,900 students from 54 U.S. states and territories and more than 50 countries pursue undergraduate, graduate and doctoral-level degrees in public health. The school also offers an online Master of Public Health, MPH@GW, and an online Executive Master of Health Administration, MHA@GW, which allow students to pursue their degree from anywhere in the world.