Keegan Hoog and Chaima Abdellaoui are research assistants for the IOI’s BALANCE project. We caught up with them about their experience working as part of a multinational study, and why their research is so important to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

AMR is a worldwide health crisis, causing over 1.2 million deaths a year. The majority of antimicrobial resistant infections and related deaths occur in low-and-middle income countries. 

However much of our knowledge about the impact of AMR is based on data from high-income countries, as they have the capacity to produce consistent and high-quality data. IOI’s BALANCE project addresses this data imbalance by supporting scientific capacity of hospitals in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Keegan Hoog, in a blue lab coat, using a pipette with a sequencing machine.

To start with, samples are collected from patients with bloodstream infections in hospitals around the world, where basic analysis is done to identify the pathogen causing infections. 

These samples are then shipped to Oxford, where Keegan and Chaima carry out advanced analysis using resources that many of the hospital laboratories in LMICs may not have. Using state-of-the-art microbiological techniques, they confirm the identification of the pathogen, and check if it is resistant to antibiotics. 

This data is then reported back to hospitals to help improve the reliability of their laboratory processes, and to spot patterns in infection rates. This information about pathogens causing infections, and their resistance to antibiotics, helps doctors in making effective diagnostic and treatment plans for patients. This may be by improving infection prevention and control measures such as cleaning, or by changing the types of antibiotics routinely given to patients, as informed by BALANCE data. 

BALANCE is creating a database of reliable data about the distribution of infections and antimicrobial resistance across multiple countries, which is vital for improving healthcare systems.

Keegan and Chaima work with a variety of micro-organisms, including fungi. Fungal bloodstream infections can be easily missed, as they are not as common as bacterial infections and both types of infection can occur at the same time in a patient.

Chaima is working to address the lack of research on the prevalence of AMR in yeasts by identifying species that are most commonly causing infection, and their susceptibility to available antifungal medications. 

Chaima in a white lab coat, putting a sample into the qiagen machine.

Keegan and Chaima have gained a unique perspective on AMR and the challenges that hospitals in low- and middle-income countries can face.

Working as part of BALANCE has shown me how AMR is an issue without borders that can affect anyone. It’s very empowering, as early career researchers, to produce results that have a tangible impact. We all have a shared global responsibility to address the threat of AMR, and I look forward to continuing this effort in my future scientific career.

Keegan Hoog, BALANCE Research Assistant

Working on BALANCE is vital for my career and personal growth, fueling my passion for science and reinforcing my commitment to combating AMR. I dream of a future where scientists triumph in the battle against AMR and healthcare equity is a reality -where every country has the expertise and resources to protect their populations against the threat of AMR. This is the heart of the work we do in BALANCE.

Chaima Abdellaoui, BALANCE Research Assistant