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By  Morgan Gilbert 15 October 2023 4 min read

Key points

  • Dr Teresa Wozniak’s spirit of adventure drives her passion for research.
  • Teresa leads the Digital Solutions for Antimicrobial Resistance team, helping Australian communities fight rising antimicrobial resistance.
  • Antimicrobial resistance or AMR occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria become resistant to antimicrobial medicines such as antibiotics.

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.

Three women pose in front of a board that says Darwin Laboratories.

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!"

[Music plays and several technology-related images appear inside a circle on the screen. The CSIRO logo appears from the circle. The vision cuts to Teresa Wozniak, CSIRO Research Scientist, who is sitting in a room with plants in the background.]

TW: We know that antimicrobial resistance is a global problem in Australia. The problem is hidden – national surveillance activities don’t actually capture the most vulnerable populations of Australia.

[Screen cuts to Branwen Morgan, Lead of CSIRO’s Antimicrobial Resistance Mission, seated on a soft armchair in a small room. The video is framed in white and in front of a pale blue background. Branwen has headphones on and is speaking directly to the camera.]

BW: The Minimising Antimicrobial Resistance Mission has been co-designed with the Department of Health and Aged and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. And what we’re really working to do is to halt the rising death rate and economic burden of antimicrobial resistance in Australia by 2030.

[Screen cuts to Bhavini Patel, Executive Director of Medicine Management of NT Health, sitting in front of a hallway in a medical facility.]

BP: At the moment, if you go and visit your GP, your general practitioner, or visit a remote health center and they think you’ve got an infection, there’s no clear way of understanding what the right antibiotic is going to be based on local resistance patterns.

[Screen cuts to Anne Kleinitz, a Senior Rural Medical Practitioner, seated in a bright, open room with comfortable chairs.]

AK: As doctors, we look after a population that covers a really large geographical area.

In all those areas, the antimicrobial resistance varies. So having a platform that can give us data specific to each region will be really useful.

We have this sort of data, we can feel confident that perhaps, for example, a narrow spectrum antibiotic may really work for this patient and we can confidently use it.

[Screen cuts to Amy Legg, a pharmacist, who is sitting in a nondescript room in front of a glass wall.]

AL: The HOTspots platform is a new platform that’s been developed.

What it does is it takes data that we have been collecting and really been concentrating in some of the major areas such as Darwin and Alice Springs, and makes it relate to some of the more remote areas where we actually see a really high burden of infections.

What’s really interesting about the sort of data and reporting that we do is it’s mandated that we do report on our antimicrobial resistance patterns. But a lot of that data hasn’t necessarily been optimally used in terms of guideline writing.

Now what we’ll have is really robust data to drive probably significant differences that will help optimise care for our patients because we’ll have access to this data for them and where they live.

[Screen cuts back to Bhavini Patel.]

BP: The great thing about HOTspots is this allows each region to have its own antibiotic biogram based on the infections and treatment that’s occurred over the last twelve months.

The HOTspots data actually allows the clinical person to have a look at what the sensitivities were for those likely infection bugs and make that decision a lot quicker.

[Screen cuts back to Teresa Wozniak.]

TW: So not only are we looking to diversify geographically with HOTspots program, we recognise that antimicrobial resistance goes across the one health sector, and we want to expand the HOTspots program beyond human antimicrobial resistance.

[Screen cuts back to Branwen Morgan.]

BW: What’s really important to the mission is that we form enduring collaborative partnerships.

That is why surveillance platforms such as HOTspots are incredibly important to help us get that data and to really understand what is going on in society.

When we think about what we might actually need to halt the rising death rate and economic burden of antimicrobial resistance, we can’t just think about the technological solutions. We have to think about the environment in which they’ll be used and also the behavioural change that will be required. Because unless we have an enabling ecosystem ― so where there’s appropriate funding, appropriate policy ― some of these solutions will never have the impact that we want them to have.

[Screen cuts back to Bhavini Patel.]

BP: I’m really excited to see the HOTspots come into clinical practice, because it’s got great benefits for patients. It’ll reduce the workload of clinicians and have a really major impact on improving antimicrobial stewardship across the top end.

[Screen cuts back to Teresa Wozniak.]

TW: The need for the HOTspots program really came from the ground. It came from building very strong relationships and partnerships with local clinicians, with local policymakers.

Importantly, the HOTspots program has two components. It has the disease surveillance component. It also has the component where that information is then used for action.

Currently, over 200 sites contribute to the HOTspots program. We get data directly from pathology providers, from hospitals, community clinics, and GP practices.

So what does the future hold for HOTspots? Well, HOTspots is expanding. Humans aren’t the only creatures that are affected by antimicrobial resistance, and we need to better understand how antimicrobial resistance fits within the ecosystem of One Health.

We want to go beyond Northern Australia, and we think that the HOTspots app can be used as a national atlas for antimicrobial resistance.

[Screen fills with white and the CSIRO logo appears.]

CSIRO researchers join healthcare professionals to explain how CSIRO’s HOTspots platform is improving the surveillance and treatment of antibiotic resistant infections in Australia.

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