Research Insider this week gets up close with Low Wen Wen, a microbiologist-in-training who is pursuing her PhD at Imperial College London. She is investigating how antibiotic resistance genes are transmitted in a bacteria called Klebsiella pneumoniae. It is a major cause of hospital-acquired infections. Research Insider also identifies the areas of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which the research covers and its impact.
What got you into your research field?
I first became interested in microorganisms after playing with a toy microscope as a child. It felt like I was peering into a completely new world and I was absolutely fascinated. Witnessing the impact of the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks encouraged a specific interest in disease-causing microbes. I considered specialising in mosquito-borne diseases and even worked in a malaria lab as an undergraduate. However, after being exposed to research on antibiotic resistance and learning about its huge and widespread future implications, I was inspired to enter this research field instead.
What is the novelty of your research?
I am investigating how antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes are transmitted in a bacterial pathogen called Klebsiella pneumoniae. The process I study was discovered almost 80 years ago but many aspects of it remain poorly understood. This is especially so for pathogens like K. pneumoniae which have only recently gained more attention due to emerging multidrug resistance. I use fluorescence markers to track how resistance spreads within a population and, based on these, identify targets which are essential during transmission. With the technique I am using, we can test a large number of candidates simultaneously, greatly speeding up the research process.
Why is your research important?
Our inability to treat infections caused by antimicrobial resistant microorganisms has the potential to kill up to 10 million people a year by the year 2050. One way to prevent this is to extend our ability to use our existing arsenal of antibiotics. Limiting the spread of resistance can certainly play a large role in this effort. By identifying targets involved in the transmission of resistance genes we could, in the future, design compounds to inhibit this process to slow their spread.
What is the SDG impact of your research?
Since they began to be widely used, antibiotics have saved countless lives from infections and reduced the associated rates of death by about 80%. Clinical procedures that are considered common and low-risk today are only considered such because of antibiotics. Thus, working to extend their effectiveness falls in line with the UN’s 3rd SDG to ensure healthy lives and to reduce mortality associated with communicable diseases.
Watch the first episode of Malaysian Research Insider, a webinar series organised by Malaysian Biosciences Scholars (MBIOS) and 100 Scientists of Malaysia in collaboration with Science Media Centre Malaysia with Low Wen Wen
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