Of Melioidosis and Modern Microbiology – Dr. Ivo Steinmetz

Dr. Ivo Steinmetz from University of Greifswald, Greifswald is a renowned microbiologist, currently based as a Full Professor for Hygiene and Microbiology at the Medical University of Graz, Austria. His area of expertise includes infectious diseases, parasitology and virology.

Dr. Ivo’s current research interests focuses extensively on innate anti-bacterial immune mechanisms and on virulence traits of Burkholderia pseudomallei, causative organism of “Melioidosis”, an infectious disease endemic to tropic climates like Southeast Asia and Northern Australia.

We had the opportunity to interview him at the recently held Indo German Convention of Lindau Alumni (IGCLA). Here’s what he had to say- 

MTTN: Why Melioidosis? What made you take up a disease that is non endemic to the country you come from?
Ivo: In 1992, after my third year in medical school, I took a diploma course at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I listened to different lectures and I thought it was really interesting. Yes, I come from Germany which is a non-endemic area but the epidemiology is well known and UK just reported its first cases. Plus it is very commonly misdiagnosed and has a mortality rate of over 90 percent without appropriate treatment.

MTTN: In a team that is researching Melioidosis, what kind of skill sets would you require in the team?
Ivo: Well, microbiologists and epidemiologists, with special emphasis on statistics.

MTTN: You have a hundred and forty six publications to your name. That’s quite impressive! Is there any particular paper or thesis that was of personal significance to you?
Ivo: Well, I was doing more of immunology first. Then after I began researching B.Psuedomallaei and Melioidosis, I delved into its pathogenesis and diagnosis, to see if we can use monoclonal antibodies for a more specific and cost effective test for its diagnosis. Melioidosis is the one thing I’ve worked most extensively on.

MTTN: How did you enter into the research field?
Ivo: When I was in my third year of med school, a professor of mine who was then working on complement systems, encouraged me to write a medical thesis. I listened to a lot of lectures and read books by various distinguished researchers. I have not looked back since then.

MTTN: How do you think once can maintain a balance between clinical practice and research work?
Ivo: (laughs) This is a worldwide issue that has not been resolved yet. In some clinics in Germany, you are expected to do clinical work in the mornings and conduct your research on weekends or after 6 pm. But if you do that, you aren’t being competitive. So if research is what you really want to do, then you need to tell yourself that your focus is routine research. I have seen many established clinicians who do not want to be bothered with new developments. But younger clinicians want to. It is therefore very important to define the role of each individual in an institution. That is the only way balance can be maintained.

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MTTN: It is not a known fact that one can do a PhD after graduating from UG med school. What are the benefits a student can expect if he/she pursues a PhD abroad?
Ivo: If you pursue a PhD, it makes you more competent to judge future developments. In school you listen to your professors and read your textbooks. But that is such a passive way to acquire knowledge. But in PhD, you see how this knowledge is created and actually entered into the textbooks.

MTTN: Is German language necessary if you want to do a PhD in Germany?
Ivo: No no, it is not at all necessary.

MTTN: What is your routine working schedule?
Ivo: Well, it depends. 24 hours or 10 hours, depending on how ambitious one is. If you are motivated to get the results of your experiment in one week, you will get up at 4 AM to change your buffer. If you are not, your result that could have come in a month, will take 3 months to deliver.

MTTN: Finally, is there any advice you would like to give to the students here in Manipal who want to enter the research field?
Ivo: Motivation to pursue medicine is very different. Some will pursue medicine simply to become general practitioners whereas others will want something much more. I feel that new techniques and ideas only develop in non-clinical science. Clinical examination of patients has not changed dramatically at all in the past decades.
If you want to do something , keep to it.

 

– Divya Nayar and Shaista Salam for MTTN.

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