Public Research Lecture | ‘Disarming’ antibiotic resistance in bacteria: a solution to a public health crisis? | Dr Leon Leanse

10 October 2023
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Date: Tuesday 10th October 2023
Time: 18:00 – 19:30
Location: Conference Hall, Europa Point Campus

About this lecture

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria tolerate or resist conventional antibiotics rendering them no longer susceptible to specific therapeutic intervention. As such, it has complicated the treatment of numerous infections, resulting in increasing numbers of deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that by the year 2050 the numbers of deaths, as a direct consequence of antimicrobial resistance, will reach 10 M; with a significant proportion being driven by bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Therefore, in response to this crisis, numerous studies have been initiated to identify innovative therapeutic strategies against infection. Photodynamic therapy, Blue light, and Ultraviolet radiation are excellent examples of emerging therapeutic alternatives to antibiotics. They rely on the use of photons (light particles) with or without the application of a chemical ‘photosensitizer’ (a drug that is ‘activated’ by light) that act to eliminate infectious bacteria. They benefit from their ability to destroy bacteria irrespective of antibiotic resistance status. Additionally, given the processes that underpin their antimicrobial effects, light is less likely to induce resistance development as compared to antibiotics. However, unlike antibiotics, the therapeutic effects of light are short-lived; when the light switches off, so do the antimicrobial processes. Recently, it was discovered that, in addition to being an antimicrobial in its own right, light can effect a variety of antibiotic resistance mechanisms to ‘sensitize’ bacteria to antibiotics. To that end, the goal of this talk is to describe antibiotic resistance in conjunction with its associated mechanisms, introduce light as a therapeutic, and showcase newly generated data that demonstrates the feasibility of using blue light to reverse antibiotic resistance by ‘disarming’ a variety components that drive resistance. Lastly, the future of this approach will be discussed, and a newly funded University of Gibraltar led project stemming from the aforementioned discovery will be introduced.

About the speaker

Dr Leon Gerald Leanse, who was born and raised in Gibraltar, received his PhD in Molecular Microbiology from Imperial College London in 2017. He was then swiftly recruited for a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School and was later promoted to the Harvard faculty.  Here he focused his research on the use of light for the treatment of infectious diseases. To date, Dr Leanse has published 26 peer-reviewed scientific papers in reputable journals, including Advanced Science, Lancet Infectious Diseases, JCI insight, Journal of Infectious Diseases etc. Additionally, he has received four research grants that have helped him drive his research forward. He is internationally recognised for his research having been invited to present his work in Brazil, China, USA, and Gibraltar. He is now serving as the Research Programme Coordinator at the University of Gibraltar, where he is responsible for coordinating PhD Programme. Additionally, he is in the process of initiating a research project on using light to ‘sensitize’ phenotypically resistant bacteria (i.e., Biofilms and Persister cells that are produced/diverged from bacteria during stress) that are over 1000x more resistant to antibiotics than their ‘non-stressed’ counterparts.
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