Highlights of 2018

It’s February of 2019 and we are just publishing our Highlights of 2018 – yes we are a little late to the party, but January 2019 kept us busy! Last month, we got our own IIlumina sequencer, an automated extraction machine (our second robot!) in addition to so much other new lab equipment and goodies – but wait that’s all for Highlights of 2019. Let’s not digress.

2018 started off with a blast, keeping up the tradition of January blasts in CHRF. Our executive director, Dr. Samir Saha, was elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology. Earlier this year he was also was also elected to become a member of the ISPPD board – joining the global pneumococcal leaders of our time. He also delivered a key note speech on antimicrobial resistance before the German Health Ministry and the list goes on…. But for this post, as last year, we will zoom in on the young scientists of CHRF.

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Dr. Samir Saha elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology. ASM Microbe Meeting, June 10 2018, Atlanta, USA.

Nine of our scientists were invited to present 11 abstracts at ISPPD-11 in Melbourne in April, with travel grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And right before joining the meeting, Dr. Senjuti spent two weeks at the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub in San Francisco figuring out what causes meningitis in children in Bangladesh using the metagenomics. The success of the project was covered by Ed Yong in the Atlantic! The Daily Star also published a note-worthy follow up.

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CHRF and Biohub, at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, San Francisco, USA, in April 2018.

Did you know Chikungunya caused a meningitis outbreak in Bangladesh in 2017? – read more here.

The success of this project was followed up by a grant to attain our own sequencer (iSeq) to do our own sequencing in our brand new laboratory, at real time.

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Brand new? Yes – in 2018 we moved into our new laboratory and work space. We will let the pictures speak for themselves.

We are all very proud of Shahidul Islam, an old and trusted member of CHRF, who just started his PhD in collaboration with CHRF and University of Edinburgh. His thesis focuses on long-term impact of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in children – and that brings us to arguably the most exciting new of the year – the ANISA paper in the Lancet – which showed that RSV is the primary cause of infection and illness in newborns.

If you you want to know more – read “Bangladesh leads the world one step closer to understanding causes of deaths in newborns” and here is the original paper. With 84,971 pregnant mothers and 63,114 babies, ANISA was the first of its kind- it showed that a bacterium called Ureaplasma is the leading cause of death due to infection in babies, and that RSV causes the greatest number of illnesses. The study also talks about the best choice of antibiotics in newborns; only small proportion of the suspected infections appear to be infections at all!

Our other PhD student, Tanmoy, is gearing up to be Dr. Tanmoy! He has already published his first PhD paper in mBio, where the authors analyzed the genomes of >400 Salmonella Typhi strains isolated by our group.

Zabed and Naziat, in the midst of their crazy lab work, have been squeezing in trips to Lucknow and Pune working with our collaborators there and spreading the expertise of pneumococcal detection and serotyping. Want to learn how to lean on a microscope and serotype pneumococcus perfectly for hours using capsular swelling reactions? Naziat is your friend. Naziat also published her first first author paper (causes of otitis media in Bangladeshi children) this year!

Popy and Hasan went to St. Paul, Minnesota, to brush up their qPCR techniques for bacterial meningitis identification, guided by the CDC, USA. Popy went back with Hafiz soon after, this time to Atlanta, Georgia, to polish their microbiology techniques on pathogen identification. This was hosted by the CDC and Association of Public Health Labs, USA.

Group Photo.jpegSenjuti was also in Atlanta, however at a different time, to present CHRF’s work on meningitis at the American Society of Microbiology as a Gates Fellow from Low- and Middle Income Countries.

In addition to going places, CHRF members also “brought places” to Dhaka by organizing the second global meeting of RESPIRE, NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Respiratory Health at The University of Edinburgh, where the experts representing seven countries in Europe, Australia, and Asia shared their ideas to tackle respiratory illnesses in the south and south-east Asian countries. Additionally, a policy dialog on respiratory health was arranged to discuss the current respiratory health problems in Bangladesh.

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Global meeting of RESPIRE members, Dhaka, Bangladesh

We also took part in the world pneumonia day in Dhaka and the rally. Dr. Samir gave an inspirational key note speech to remember.

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World Pneumonia Day Rally, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Looking forward – in 2018 CHRF geared up to start two big studies that will look at the impact of Rotaviral diarrhea and RSV infections on the health system of Bangladesh. These studies are being coordinated by two amazing coordinators – Zabed and Kawser, who have probably gotten very little sleep in the last few months trying to coordinate a large group of clinicians, microbiologists, technicians and research assistants in both the outpatient and inpatient departments of the Dhaka Shishu Hospital, the largest pediatric hospital of Bangladesh. We also started a project to automatically interpret pediatric chest X-rays in collaboration with RESPIRE and our Canadian collaborator Mark Sun. On top of those, a project on neonatal sepsis treatment guidelines has just started. And these are in addition to our ongoing studies like the invasive bacterial disease surveillance, surveillance of enteric fever in South Asia (SEAP), TuNDRA study on antimicrobial resistance, etc, etc, etc.

And with all of the exciting new projects, CHRF expanded significantly in 2018: 25 people joined our Dhaka Shishu team and 5 joined our Shishu Shasthya team in Dhaka and 7 joined our Kumudini team in Mirzapur.

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A warm welcome to the new members of CHRF who joined in 2018.

Also, Hasan – our favourite lab manager of all time – expanded his family this December!

We were sad to see Popy, Raktim and Ishtiaque join our alumni list – but also very proud of their new roles. While Popy is now teaching in Noakhali University, Raktim is doing great work in Cox’s Bazar and Ishtiaque has landed a job at the WHO.

In 2018, together we published 22 (12 from our core research group), papers in fields from rotavirus to typhoid to GBS to pneumococcus. In addition to ANISA, our paper in eLife on Barriers in Bangladesh to conducting research was definitely a highlight, which was also covered by the Johns Hopkins Global Health Magazine, Global Health NOW – “Closing the Scientific Gap.”

Sajib published his first paper (on ceftriaxone resistant Salmonella Typhi)  in 2018 too – which was followed by two more papers!

 While several members like Maksuda, Jamal, Gautam, Shampa and Nawshad are not specifically mentioned here – we would not have reached Feb 05 of 2019 without the invisible support they provide every day, every minute. We are also very grateful to Shafiq, Afi and Sharif for managing the enormous amount of data we generate every day and keeping us from drowning and to Ruma for keeping us alive. And so thankful to so many others who make CHRF CHRF.

With all the exciting projects in place – we can’t wait for Highlights of 2019. Gotta beat 2018!

We will continue to work for Bangladesh, in Bangladesh, with Bangladesh.

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PS. We also had our first CHRF movie night! And yes, we took up most of the theatre space. Hasina: A Daughter’s Tale.