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An Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge


Antibiotic resistance represents an unprecedented worldwide threat to human and animal health. A key aspect of the problem is the ability of sub-populations of bacteria to survive antibiotic treatment by entering a dormant state. These cells are known as persisters. Emergence of persister bacteria from the dormant state after the antibiotic is withdrawn leads to a recurrent infection exemplified by urinary tract infections (UTIs), where 75% of infections are due to E. coli. Recently, work carried out in our laboratory suggests that, for some antibiotics, an indole-dependent mechanism may be responsible for >90% of E. coli persisters, suggesting a novel method of reducing persisters by combining antibiotics with indole inhibitors.

Indole is a small aromatic molecule produced by over 85 species of bacteria with diverse signalling roles. It is known to regulate persister formation. However, the lack of compounds that inhibit indole has resulted in a lack of progress towards combination therapy in this area. My current research interest is to find effective, non-toxic indole inhibitors. The aim is to develop an effective combination of antibiotic plus indole inhibitor for use in the clinic in the treatment and management of recurrent UTIs.

Key Projects, Countries, and Partners

Current: Towards a Combination Therapy to Combat Antibiotic Persisters - University of Cambridge/Department of Genetics - Funded by Innovate UK, SBRI: Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in Humans.

Previous: 2016-2019: Indole signalling and the electrical properties of the bacterial cell membrane - University of Cambridge/Department of Genetics - Funded by the Leverhulme trust.

Previous: 2012-2015: The interaction of glycopeptide antibiotics with zinc and its influence on bacterial zinc homeostasis and antibiotic activity - University of Cambridge/Department of Biochemistry - PhD Project (Funded by Cambridge Trust & Said Foundation).

Research Associate, Department of Genetics
Studying the role of indole signalling in Persisters and Biofilm Formation (Aim: Anti-persisters/Anti-biofilm therapy)
Dr Ashraf   Zarkan
Available for consultancy


Departments and institutes: 
Person keywords: 
Drug Discovery
Antimicrobial resistance