Nottingham scientist receives prestigious Microbiology award

Tuesday, 07 November 2023

A scientist who led the development of new blood test technology to detect Mycobacteria in blood has had her research recognised with an award from the Microbiology Society.

Professor Cath Rees from the School of Biosciences has been announced as one of the Microbiology Society’s Prizewinners in recognition of her research to develop rapid, phage-based tests for the detection of mycobacterial pathogens, including M. tuberculosis in humans and M. paratuberculosis and M. bovis in animals.

The Microbiology Society’s Prizes recognise excellence and are awarded to those making significant contributions in the field of microbiology, based on nominations received from the membership. Winners are selected for their work to advance understanding of microbiology and champion the contribution made by microbiology, our members and their work in addressing global challenges.

Professor Rees’ research focuses on applying molecular techniques to the study of applied microbiology, with specific interest in the study of Listeria and Mycobacteria in food and agricultural systems. Her expertise in bacteriophage (viruses than infect bacteria) has led to the development of new tests that can detect low levels of Mycobacteria in blood and milk in just six hours.

The new method has been used to show that cattle diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) have detectable levels of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) - which causes bTB - in their blood. It has also been used to detect another endemic disease of dairy cattle - Johne’s Disease (JD) by being able to detect the bacteria that cause this infection in both blood and milk. These new tests provide an opportunity to control the disease before animals become infectious and break the cycle of infection.

The test, marketed as Actiphage®, is now licenced to spin out company, PBD Biotech Ltd where Professor Rees was CSO until 2022, and has attracted nearly £5 million investment. The technology received the Royal Dairy Innovation Award in 2019 and the British Veterinary Association award for innovation in 2021.

However, promising preliminary studies with collaborators at the University of Leicester1 have recently led the company to focus on developing Actiphage as a human TB diagnostic test to help in the battle against this global disease that kills 1.6 million people every year2.

I am delighted to have been awarded the Translational Microbiology Prize by the Microbiology Society. The Actiphage project represents years of endeavour by a large number of talented scientists who have passed through my lab and who have contributed to the success of this project in different ways. Thank you all - and thank you to the Society for dedicating a prize recognising the value of translational research which is often overlooked.
Professor Cath Rees, School of Biosciences

The Translational Microbiology Prize is awarded to an individual who has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to translational microbiology. The recipient is awarded £1,000.

Story credits

1 Verma R, Swift BMC, Handley-Hartill W, Lee JK, Woltmann G, Rees CED, Haldar P. A Novel, High-sensitivity, Bacteriophage-based Assay Identifies Low-level Mycobacterium tuberculosis Bacteremia in Immunocompetent Patients With Active and Incipient Tuberculosis. Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Feb 14;70(5):933-936. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciz548. PMID: 31233122.


More information is available from Professor Cath Rees on 

Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
Phone: 0115 7486462

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