There’s nothing that clears the mind like a multi-day hike or a few weeks on a bike.
According to Dr Teresa Wozniak, that is.
Teresa is a principal research scientist at CSIRO’s Australian e-Health Research Centre. There she's among a team coming up with solutions for antimicrobial resistance (AMR). A growing health crisis, AMR occurs when the drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi and viruses no longer work. This happens because the bugs have become resistant to them.
These “superbugs” represent one of the most significant threats to human health on a global scale. For decades, we've taken for granted that we can easily treat minor injuries and cure common infections. With AMR, these otherwise insignificant health challenges could potentially be life-threatening.
It's why Teresa and her team are working hard to find solutions. And when she wants to clear her head? She heads out of the lab.
A lifelong passion for exploration (and science!)
“I love travelling, discovering new places, learning new languages, and experiencing cultures I’m not familiar with,” Teresa said.
Her family moved around a lot when she was a child. She’s lived in many different places across Europe, Africa, and Australia.
“I found that change was a very positive thing for me. I truly believe that growing up in unfamiliar environments made me more resilient and creative,” Teresa said.
In 2016, Teresa set off on a new adventure. She and her husband moved their family to the Northern Territory. She described their three years in Darwin as a wonderful adventure. While living there, they explored far north Western Australia and jetted off to international destinations, including Timor-Leste.
“Travel is a way for us take a step back and regroup as a family,” Teresa said.
“It’s times like that when you come together and realise what’s important. The things that are so pressing or urgent in everyday life, they’re often not as serious as they seem.”
Her family recently spent a few weeks cycling in New Zealand, and Teresa has lofty plans for future travels.
“My travel has always centred around sport – cycling, skiing, hiking and the kids are now at an age where they really enjoy those things too,” she said.
From the travel bug to "superbugs"
Teresa’s adventurous spirit and determination have gotten her to where she is now.
“I think my career choices as well have been about going with the flow and opening myself up to new challenges," she said.
After studying medical science at university, she completed not one, but two PhDs. She's worked across academia, the private sector, government, and not-for-profit organisations. Teresa is now a principal research scientist with the AEHRC, where she leads the Digital Solutions for Antimicrobial Resistance team.
“I value what CSIRO stands for, I have a job I love, and I’m very proud of the team that I have been fortunate enough to build here at AEHRC,” she said.
Teresa and her team are working with rural and remote Australian health practitioners to build resilience to AMR. “It’s important that the societal benefit of antimicrobials is retained. Antibiotics save lives, and we need to ensure we’ve got a ready supply of antibiotics to effectively treat the infections we see,” she said.
They’re continuing to develop and expand HOTSpots, an AMR surveillance and response platform that Teresa founded in the Northern Territory. HOTspots supports clinicians to access local AMR data at the point of care to ensure patients get the right drug for the right bug at the right time.
Teresa’s multidisciplinary team are also investigating the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistant pathogens and researching drivers of AMR.
“I’m certainly not going to find the solution to curb AMR on my own. I’m part of a bigger community, and I hope that together we can make some improvements,” Teresa said.
Innovation key to combatting antimicrobial resistance
Teresa is committed to her area of research and looks forward to discovering what the future holds.
“I wish the issue of AMR didn’t exist, of course, but it does, and it’s a complex problem,” Teresa said.
“I like that the issue is so messy, that the answers are not obvious. The mystery of it excites me. Through this process of discovery we may stumble on new ways to tackle AMR and perhaps identify a way forward that really helps people,” she said.
Finding her passion wasn’t straightforward, but according to Teresa, it’s all part of the process.
"Try different things and eventually you’ll find the thing you love. Then pursue it!"