Q) Dr. Tim Sandle, the well known researcher, professor, author and science communicator. It is much interesting for me to take an interview of an eminent person who is well known for the communicating science. Starting from your early childhood life, how you used to take science as that time?
I was always interested in science, especially in experimenting and asking questions. At school, from around the age of nine, there was a 'science club'. This allowed me to explore different directions outside of the school curriculum. Later, at sixteen, students needed to complete work experience (going to work for a week with an employer). I selected the blood transfusion service, and this gave me an insight into blood groups and some of the bacterial infections of the blood stream. It was also around that time when schools in the U.K. require students to specialize - either taking an arts, social science or 'pure' science route. It was at that time that I decided that my future was a scientific one and I selected biology and chemistry as my core subjects.
Q) How did your parents used to motivate you in your studies and would like to know any person who has been always been into your motivation?
My parents were always supportive and encourage hard work. I was also lucky that my mother was happy to test me at regular intervals. This helped enormously with exam preparation.
In terms of influential figures, my grandfather was in charge of the scientific photography department at the Medical Research Council. Part of his work involved taking photographs of microscopic specimens and that triggered a fascination with the microbial world.
Q) You have done your doctoral degree from Keele University, UK. What was your work background in your doctoral research? Would like to know your work experience that time.
I did my studies the hard way, part-time whilst working. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this route as it demands a lot of self-discipline and it can be quite lonely at times without the wider support base that full-time students have.
As a pharmaceutical microbiologist my work centered on matters relating to the pharmaceutical environment and clean rooms. Large quantities of disinfectants and biocides are used in such areas; however, many are not very efficacious. This can only be realized by characterizing and trending the 'microflora' (or 'microbiota' as some prefer). This then leads to a further limitation, that most culture media is unsuitable for recovering the microorganisms of clean rooms (many of which are stressed or sublethally damaged). My work was focused on the optimization of clean room environmental monitoring and aspects have been taken up as examples of best practice by professional bodies, including the IDMA (India Drug Manufacturers Association).
Q) Moving little ahead of your work. You have an experience of pharmaceutical microbiology risk assessment and investigation. Will you please elaborate your work as a risk investigator? How much you feel that risk investigation in the microbiological field is important in this modern world?
Risk assessment is of great importance and it is one of the key developments with pharmaceuticals in the past decade. In the past, the focus was on quality control and the idea of simply testing products and environments. This either meant that there was an attempt to 'test into compliance' or that the wrong things were being tested for. The approach also failed to consider how to stop risks from re-occurring.
The new risk management approach is more proactive. It involves looking at processes and considering where microbial contamination is likely to occur. Following this, the severity of the risk is considered, in relation to the environment and to patient harm. Attempts are then made to eliminate or to mitigate the risk. Only after all this has been completed is the monitoring plan decided, and here the objective of the plan is to see how effective the risk mitigation measures have been.
Applying risk assessment involves using tools like HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points), which requires the process to be mapped; and FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis), which is particularly useful for equipment. For example, if you are concerned about the operation of an autoclave and its ability to effectively sterilize an item then FMEA can be a powerful tool.
Aside from machinery and environments, risk assessment is useful for considering the microbial risk to medicines. Where microorganisms are detected, knowing the species, the numbers and the toxins each helps to consider the risk to the patient. There is a body of work around the subject of Quantitative Microbiological Risk Assessment (QMRA), which is very useful. QMRA is the process of estimating the risk from exposure to microorganisms by combining dose response information for the infectious agent with information on the distribution of exposures.
There are four very distinct steps in the risk assessment process. The first step is hazard identification, which involves the collection, organization, and evaluation of all information pertaining to a pathogen or a nutrient. Second is hazard characterization, which determines the relationship between a pathogen and any adverse effects. Third is exposure assessment, which involves determining how much of pathogen might be ingested in a serving of food. The fourth, and last step, is risk characterization, which involves evaluating the risk and related information.
Q) You are a tutor or professor of School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Manchester in pharmaceutical Microbiology. Being a researcher communicator do you communicate some novel research (not from the university syllabus) with the students? How you motivate students to make them go for research in the future?
I always encourage students to take stock of the latest research and developments within microbiology. I try to add some of this into lectures and direct the students to read around the subject. Adding something extra to an essay is a good way to score some points and to get a better grade.
For example, I've recently carried out research into different fungal agars (where the optimal agars are different from yeasts and molds) this fitted nicely into the introductory microbiology module. In a more applied area, I've also been running studies into Gram-negative bacteria endotoxin destruction methods. Trying to improve depyrogenation fitted in well with a more advanced module on sterilization methods.
Q) It is nice to know that you are a part of clean room contamination control board. How you manage and suggest public to be clean and free from contamination?
In terms of the general public, then hand washing is key. People should always wash hands after using the toilet, before eating or handling food, and after handling animals. Furthermore, they should cover all cuts and abrasions with waterproof dressings. Washing hands frequently with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing will help reduce the risk from viruses. It still surprises me that many people do not do this.
This leads onto clean rooms, where cleaning and disinfection are important. Cleaning should not be underestimated since many disinfectants are relatively poor at penetrating dirt. Therefore, the use of a detergent is necessary to reduce the surface tension around dirt and to remove it, allowing the disinfectant to make contact with microorganisms, traverse the cell wall, and kill them.
Another important part of clean rooms is air control. Clean rooms require HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filtered air to stop bacteria and fungi from getting in; good turbulence to sweep away contamination; a regular replacement of the air volume with fresh, clean air. More critical areas should also be at a higher pressure to less clean areas, so that the air flows outwards and not inwards. Given that most medicinal products are manufactured within clean rooms, understanding these principles of air control are important. However, this remains an area that is taught on very few microbiology courses, despite its importance.
Q) You have written several books and published many of your research into scientific journals. Being a researcher, science communicator and a professor what message you would wish to give for the future young researchers or to the students of microbiology?
The first thing is to read a lot, always read around the subject and try to keep up-to-date with the latest trends. With microbiology, the field of rapid microbiological methods is a key example of fast changing technology. Another area is the human microbiome work which is the key to understanding how medications work with the body. The human gut hosts the most complex array of microorganisms imaginable.
Second, you need to attend extra lectures. Go to other seminars, read blogs, listen in on webinars.
Third, get lots of lab experience and, where you can, extra work experience. Many companies have open days or need help during vacations. Anything that can broaden your experience is good.
Fourth, begin to think about your career path. Microbiologists are employed by various industries to test product safety, by wastewater treatment plants to ensure water quality, by hospitals to identify disease-causing microbes, and by research institutes to explore basic aspects of microbial biology, diversity and ecology. The food industry employs many microbiologists for food testing and production of products such as wine, beer, dairy products and mushrooms.
Fifth, put care and attention into your essays. Learn the art of researching and writing, and always pay particular attention to referencing. If you make good notes around your citations you have a good stock of references to go back to.
Finally, and most importantly, continue to enjoy this fascinating and challenging field.
Q) http://www.pharmamicroresources.com/ is a well known blog of yours. Can you please introduce your blog to the new readers?
I set the site - 'Pharmaceutical Microbiology' - up in December 2009, mainly because I was finding out about the latest scientific developments and new standards too late. When I looked around there was no single site that was providing the information that I was keen to read about. So, I thought the best motto was 'do it yourself'.
For the past two years I've posted something every day. One day it could be a new research paper, such as the current fascinating work into the human microbiome and the way this affects medicines; another day, it could be about a new FDA standard for the safety of medicines. I'd encourage your readers to check it out!
I also have several groups on LinkedIn (this is a great place for networking) and a site on Facebook, and I also use Twitter. Social media has revolutionized science communication, making information more accessible and for it to be communicated much faster.
Q) Now something little ahead of science background. People really want to know how you developed your interests over science and moreover would also like to know your life apart from science.
I developed my interest in science through visiting many of the interesting museums in London as a young boy. My favorite was always the museum of Natural History, which triggered a later interest in biological science. I was lucky once to be shown the research center in the museum. It was vast, cavernous place where there were many live specimens (insects, rare spiders, snakes)...it sparked off something in me!
Outside of science, I am married to a biomedical scientist and we have a son who is at school. I enjoy writing, history, visiting museums and art galleries, travel and cinema.
Q) Knowing enormous opportunities that abound in Microbiology but which remain relatively untapped, so how do we improve the interests of young intellectuals in Microbiology as a field of study in developing countries like India.
One way is to utilize microbiology as a way to develop, to encourage investment. Another way is to use research to improve medical research in the treatment of diseases. Microbiology can be powerful in terms of both technological advancement and in medicine.
With healthcare, many hospitals only have basic microbiology laboratories and not all of the staff is qualified. Fast and accurate disease diagnosis is something which today's students can help to improve. The biggest concern here is with antimicrobial-drug resistance. This is being increasingly recognized in pathogens that commonly cause infections in health-care settings, rendering available antimicrobial agents ineffective and further shortening the list of already scarce effective agents. Controlling antibiotic use, targeting it where it is needed and finding alternatives is the biggest challenge India, and most of the world, faces.
Once students complete their course, they can work in microbiology based industries like pharmaceutical, dairy, breweries, distilleries, enzyme, etc. Alternatively, they can also pursue their PhD programme.
Q) A little introduction I would like to give about We The Microbiologist before I know your comments. WTM is organized by young microbiologists, biotechnologists and medical student to highlight the importance of Microbiology in India as well as in developing countries. WTM has extended its boundaries after it is recognized by International Union of Microbiological Societies and also collaborating with other national and international organizations. So for WTM to improve would like to know your ideas and words for this society.
International collaboration is the key, broadening horizons. I think the key is linking up with as many microbiology bodies as possible. Many also provide free or low cost education resources, which can be disseminated through your network.
Another area is webinars (web lectures), having some major speakers deliver special lectures or describe their work over the Internet.
I will certainly try to help, and to pass on anything interesting that I find to your organization; you have a great society here!
As addressed to
MD, We The Microbiologist,
Science Communicator, Biomysteries