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Dr Owen B. Spiller

Dr Owen B. Spiller

Senior Lecturer

School of Medicine

Email:
spillerb@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
+44 29207 42394
Location:
UHW Main Building
Available for postgraduate supervision

Dr. Owen “Brad” Spiller is a leading international authority on clinical Ureaplasma spp. and Mycoplasma hominis infections and has been the elected Secretary-General for the International Organisation of Mycoplasmology for the past 5 years.  Currently his laboratory is the UK antimicrobial sensitivity reference laboratory for all Ureaplasma spp. and M. hominis positive clinical samples submitted to both Public Health England and Public Health Wales NHS services.  In 2014, Brad was additionally appointed adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Western Australia, where he continues to serve as experimental infection advisor to the Large Animal Facility (School of Women’s and Infant’s Health) in Perth. Brad moved from the Department of Child Health to the Department of Medical Microbiology at Cardiff University in 2015, to join Professor Tim Walsh (Head) and Dr. Mark Toleman to form the All Wales Antimicrobial Resistance Research group (@AWARRe Twitter)

The Spiller Laboratory is a research team focussed on determining the underlying mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and pathogenicity in clinical infections, which have expanded from Mollicutes (cell-wall-less bacteria) to include Legionella pneumophila, Streptococcus agalactiae, and E. coli.  The patient groups of interest are sepsis patients (both neonatal and adult) as well as diagnosis and treatment of non-specific urethritis/cervicitis in sexual health patients.  These interests include validating new commercial diagnostic assays, developing new antimicrobial agents, developing new high-throughput AST screening platforms and examining suspected pathogenic/virulence genes (this is still the only laboratory that has successfully genetically altered Ureaplasma parvum to date (in collaboration with the Venter Institute).  Due to expanding collaborations within AWARRe the Spiller Laboratory also takes an active role in collaborative research on emerging AMR-mediating genes (such as mcr-1, NDM-5, etc) in vitro and in vivo.

Originally a Canadian Microbiologist from Vancouver, I initially came to the U.K. to examine innate immune evasion of microbes. From 2000 to 2005 I established an independed research group through the Wellcome Trust Career Development Fellowship Program, before joining the Department of Child Health at University Hosptial of Wales in 2005 to develop a new research theme examining antimicrobial resistance in bacterial infections of premature neonates.  This led to my establishing the leading U.K. reference laboratory for investigations of Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma infections. These cell wall-less bacteria are inherently resistant to most antimicrobials and are the leading cause of preterm birth and are emerging as respiratory pathogens.  I am in my third elected term as the Secretary-General of the International Organisation of Mycoplasmology (http://iom-online.org) and have just completed 2 elected terms as the mycoplasma antimicrobial resistance officer for the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (https://www.escmid.org/research_projects/study_groups/mycoplasma_infections/executive_committee/).

In 2012, I began a Royal Society funded collaboration with the University of Western Australia to investigate intrauterine microbial pathology and develop new antibiotics that were safe and effective for use in pregnant women.  These collaborations resulted in my being awarded an adjunct associate professorship at the University of Western Australia's School of Women's and Infant's Health, Perth, Australia in 2014.

Also in 2015, I joined the All Wales Antimicrobial Resistance Research unit, headed by Prof. Timothy Walsh, and have been expanding my research of antimicrobial resistance to other bacteria.  As a result in 2017, I have new research projects characterising Group B Streptococcus strains isolated from U.K. sepsis patients and characterisation of Legionella pnuemophilia isolates from U.K. outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease, also known as legionellosis.

Education and qualifications:

1995: PhD (Pathology), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Honours and awards

  • 2000 Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship
  • 2015 awarded honorary adjunct Associate Professorship at the University of Western Australia

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New publication updates! Nov 2019

Free access to our latest analysis of 1000 Welsh sexual health patients in rural Wales:  https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1a7qV38ed-Ja%7Eu  until 16 Jan 2020. Looking at the prevalence of the emerging Sexual Health Superbug Mycoplasma genitalium. New important evidence: bacterial load is NOT related to symptoms and age group for peak incidence differs between genders.

Sexual Health Patient Research

There are currently 3 separate KESS2-funded active research projects:

  1. In collaboration with industrial partner Health First Consulting, to evaluate the specificity, sensitivity and AMR accuracy of the CPM SAS (Italy) MYCO WELL D-ONE assay on 1000 Welsh patients attending walk-in Sexual Health NHS clinics in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Collection of these samples has concluded as of October 2018. A follow-on IRAS ethics has now been obtained to correlate specific sexual health diagnoses to presence (as well as bacterial load thresholds) for Ureaplasma parvum, Ureaplasma urealyticum, Mycoplasma hominis and Mycoplasma genitalium infection.  These studies were also able to incorporate development of a new parC-mutation diagnostic assay from SpeeDx, which will shortly be published. (MPhil student Daniel Morris, Medical student Christopher Rees)
  2. In collaboration with industrial partner, Cwm Taf University Health Trust, to evaluate the specificity, sensitivity and AMR accuracy of the CPM SAS (Italy) UROGEN WELL D-ONE assay and the BioMerieiux (France) prototype for Mycoplasma IST3 assay on 500 symptomatic sexual health patients attending walk-in sexual health clinics at Keir Hardie Health park and Dewi Sant Hospital. Similar to the previous study, however this chromogenic culture diagnostic assay extends to Neisseria spp., E. coli, Group B Streptococcus, Candida, Trichomonas vaginalis, Gardnerella vaginalis, Staphylococcus and Enterococcus spp. Multifactorial and odds ratio associations for each microbe will be determined for urethritis, cervicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease and other relevant sexual health maladies.  This study will continue recruiting until September 2019. (MPhil student Andrew Barratt/technical assistance Ian Boostrom)
  3. In collaboration with industrial partners Public Health Wales and Cwm Taf University Health Trust, an interventional clinical trial (THE ANTIBIOTIC GUARDIAN study) will determine the benefits of rapid targeted therapeutic intervention on the rate of clinical symptom resolution for patients and number of clinical visits to sexual health clinics. This project is also designed to reduce the amount of incorrect antimicrobial prescription and determine effective working antibiotic guardian guidelines without diminishing patient care. (PhD student Martin Sharratt, Nurse Rebecca Davis)

Legionella pneumophila research

Legionella pneumophila is a remarkably fastidious bacteria and it’s requirement for addition of activated charcoal to agar-based culture has long interfered with the capacity to determine antimicrobial susceptibility testing.  Activated charcoal not only makes it difficult to visualise the growth of bacteria on the plate (requiring evaluation of the plate surface with removal of the lid putting the investigator at risk of aerosol exposure to a potent respiratory pathogen), but it also absorbs the antimicrobials to varying extents making it impossible to define an accurate AST or determine AMR.  While microbroth dilution methods are available, they are extremely tedious and require evaluation of turbidity on multiple 96-well plates.  We have created a translucent solid culture medium (LASARUS – patent pending), that we have combined with automated multi-pin-inoculation and have currently determined the MIC for 8 antimicrobials on all archived clinical isolates submitted to Public Health England and Wales since 2003 (approximately 2000 isolates) as well as an additional 1000 environmental isolates from PHE Porton Downs.  An important advance as the previous record for AST determination for Legionella pneumophila was 122 isolates!  We are now adapting our high throughput platform to determine biocide efficacy and to evaluate a series of new antimicrobials/decontaminants. (PhD student Edward Portal)

Streptococcus agalactiae research

We have finished comparing whole genome sequences for 195 blood isolated strains collected between 2014-2015 (in collaboration with Public Health England and supported by the Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust) relative to AST determination to correlate all the available antimicrobial resistance and virulence genes to patient outcome.  The results of these studies will be presented at the FEMS meeting in Glasgow July 2019.  The research programme is now expanding to compare UK isolate genomes to all invasive blood and CSF isolates from Sao Paolo Brazil (collaboration with Diego Andrey – Switzerland and Ana Gales – Brazil) and strains collected during routine antenatal screening in Perth Australia.  (PhD student Uzma Basit Khan).

Molecular manipulation of Ureaplasma parvum

Although commonly dismissed as a commensal, there is no escaping the dominant association of Ureaplasma infection and preterm birth – or at a minimum the key role of Ureaplasma respiratory infection of preterm infants and the development of chronic lung disease.  Routine clinical evaluation of preterm neonates at the Children’s Hospital at University Hospital of Wales has determined that successful transfer from invasive mechanical ventilator assisted breathing to non-invasive continuous positive airway pressure – assisted breathing requires successful treatment of underlying Ureaplasma spp. infections.  This is particularly difficult as all Ureaplasma spp. are inherently resistant to all antimicrobials except for tetracyclines, fluoroquinolones and macrolides.  The first two of which cannot be used in children due to adverse effects on teeth/bones and tendons/ligaments respectively.  Not all strains are pathogenic and there is a void in the information regarding the mechanisms of pathogenicity or identification of virulence genes for this organism as they are one of the smallest (200-500 nm) and most difficult to culture.  Following on from our previous unique success as the only laboratory to successfully achieve random insertion mutagenesis inactivation of genes, we have now delivered luciferase genes that allow visualisation of these organisms following engulfment my leukocytes and in vivo tracking of infection in experimental models.

Current supervision

Daniel Morris

Research student

Mrs Uzma Basit Khan

Research student

Miss Mei Li

Research student