Now that we've moved to a new stage in the COVID-19 pandemic, I've once again been able to participate in international conferences, expanding Phages for Global Health's network of collaborators. Over the past few months I have been invited to speak and facilitate sessions at the following conferences:
Phage Futures (Netherlands)
In addition to serving as a moderator for the conference, I also presented an overview of our work in Africa and Asia, including:
(1) Building scientific capacity through laboratory training workshops
(2) Creating international collaborations to develop phage products
(3) Working toward establishing national collections of phages ("phage banks") that could be used to rapidly respond to bacterial outbreaks
(4) Sharing information on how government agencies in the US, Europe and Australia are regulating phage products
Viruses of Microbes (Portugal)
This conference is one of the largest events for phage researchers worldwide, but it was postponed for the last 2 years due to the pandemic. I took advantage of this year's gathering to organize a meeting with researchers from roughly 20 institutions to begin developing international guidelines for phage banks. The experience of those who are already managing phage banks in industrialized countries will help scientists in Africa and Asia who are trying to initiate such phage banks.
World Antimicrobial Resistance Congress (Washington, DC)
International policymakers, scientists and thought leaders met at this conference to brainstorm ideas and formulate initiatives to address the global antibiotic resistance crisis. Together with a representative from the US FDA, I summarized the various approaches that drug regulatory authorities in different countries are using to oversee phage-based drugs. We are now working toward sharing this information at symposia in Africa and Asia.
We’re excited about the collaborations that have evolved through these conferences, particularly in progress toward establishing phage bank guidelines and sharing information on regulating phage products! Thank you for your support in bringing this work to fruition.
Last month we delivered our first virtual Phage Workshop — and it was also our first workshop for scientists in Southeast Asia. As with each of the four in-person workshops that we previously delivered in East and West Africa, we had two broad goals for this Southeast Asia workshop: (1) teach key aspects of phage biology and experimental techniques and (2) develop relationships amongst a network of phage researchers in the given region. We were pleasantly surprised with how well both goals were achieved, even though the coronavirus pandemic forced us to deliver this workshop virtually.
Throughout the workshop sessions, the participants displayed an impressive enthusiasm for learning how phages can be used to address the antibiotic resistance crisis in their countries. During question and answer sessions with different lecturers and panelists, as well as through facilitated small group discussions in Zoom breakout rooms, the participants clearly got to know each other, as well as the 23 instructors who taught at various times and on different topics during the month of March.
At the conclusion of the workshop, we asked participants to fill out an anonymous questionnaire, giving feedback about their experience. The overwhelming response was that they found the workshop to be extremely helpful in preparing them for future phage research and teaching. In fact, some already began teaching phage biology to their students during the five weeks of the workshop! In addition, the workshop participants uniformly reported that they feel comfortable approaching any of the instructors if they have questions in the future (and the instructors eagerly welcome this!).
Thank you for your support in making this virtual workshop a reality. We'll also share some words of gratitude from the participants themselves, received through the anonymous questionnaire: "My sincerest thank you to everyone! Such an enjoyable workshop despite it being virtual. Really learned a lot and got to know more people that have the same interest. Such a memorable experience!"
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