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A visit of a lifetime: Our experience with APHA’s UK FAO Reference Centre for AMR

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Who are we?

Our names are Remedios F. Micu and Mary Ann R. Escoto, and we are from the National Meat Inspection Services (NMIS) of the Philippines. NMIS is a specialised regulatory agency of the Department of Agriculture and is the country’s sole national controlling and competent authority on all matters pertaining to meat inspection and hygiene.

We are both laboratory scientists from the Departments of Microbiology and Molecular Biology. Some of our duties include inspecting meat for the presence of contaminants such as bacteria and parasites and identification of meat species. We also conduct surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in apparently healthy food animals and recently African Swine Fever in slaughterhouses.

Visiting APHA and working with the UK FAO Reference Centre for AMR

We visited the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) from 26 June to 12 July, 2023. Working with APHA’s FAO Reference Centre for AMR is a dream come true for both of us and for the NMIS.

We are currently doing a collaborative project with APHA on using whole genome sequencing (WGS), antibiotic susceptibility testing and epidemiological data to achieve insight into antibiotic resistance in Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp. isolated from poultry in dressing plants in the Philippines. The visit was very significant for us as this was the first-time staff from NMIS had visited APHA and successfully collaborated in a research project. The visit has allowed us to share knowledge and ideas which we hope will strengthen our food safety policies, food security, and laboratory capacity for NMIS scientists.

In action with APHA

Training in the UK was a pleasant experience, somewhat like attending your first day of school. Not only did we get to meet and have discussions with different scientists and experts in their fields, but it also allowed us to get familiar with different laboratory procedures.

We first had a short meeting with APHA’s Dr Rod Card, Head of the U.K. FAO Reference Centre for AMR, together with his colleague, Dr Ramon Maluping, who arranged and prepared an outstanding itinerary and program of activities for our visit.

Dr Card gave us an overview of the agency and the many activities of the Reference Centre. We learned that these activities fall into one or more categories namely: international engagement; capacity building; guidance and standards; and surveillance and research. Dr Card explained to us how some of the data gathered from surveillance programmes was used to inform policies and guidelines. He also presented some of their past and on-going collaborative research projects on utilising WGS to achieve insight on AMR.

Group image of two males and two females
Remedios and Mary Ann were welcomed by Roderick Card and Ramon Maluping of APHA’s UK FAO Reference Centre for AMR during their three-week visit to APHA-Weybridge

Our first week was full of laboratory tours and discussions with section heads and fellow scientists. We were fortunate enough to be able to perform (with guidance of APHA scientists) actual laboratory work such as performing antibiotic susceptibility testing using broth microdilution, identification of Campylobacter species using matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrophotometry (MALDI-TOF MS), and Salmonella serotyping using conventional and WGS approaches, just to cite a few. We also spent substantial time at APHA’s Central Sequencing Unit and visited the Biological Production Unit where culture media and reagents are being prepared.

We had a very useful discussion and consultation with the entire UK FAO Reference Centre for AMR team, the departmental quality advisor, the team leads of both AMR and Disinfectant Team and the lead veterinarian from the Field Epidemiology and Surveillance Team. We were also able to deliver a presentation on “who we are and what we do” during the Department of Bacteriology meeting.

In the final week, we got a chance to visit the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the UK lead for AMR policy in animal health. We spent time with their Residues and AMR teams to understand how they carry out their animal AMR monitoring programmes and National Residues Control Plan across the UK.

Since it was our first time in Europe, we made sure to squeeze in some time to explore London and the nearby areas. We had the opportunity to learn a bit of English culture and observed how the majority of people were helpful, friendly, and well-mannered. We were amazed to see the magnificent architecture and sights of London that we had only seen on television and magazines. We were also fascinated about how the British weather was frequently a topic of many conversations!

Group image of two males and three females standing in front of a sign which says, "VEterinary Medicines Directorate".
Remedios and Mary Ann and colleagues at the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), Racheal Dalton and Issa Muraina during their visit at VMD HQ in Weybridge

Trip to France

We are very pleased that the abstract from our collaborative research project with APHA entitled ‘Prevalence of Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactam (ESBL) and Colistin Resistance in Escherichia coli Isolated from Broiler Chickens in Dressing Plants in the Philippines’ was accepted for an oral presentation at the 9th International Symposium on Antimicrobial Resistance on Animals and the Environment (ARAE).

With the support from the UK FAO Reference Centre, we were able to attend this outstanding conference. This gave us a once in a lifetime opportunity to listen to excellent presentations on topics of One Health AMR. We were also able to meet and network with academicians, researchers, and fellow scientists who are working in the field of AMR.

We are grateful for this opportunity to visit APHA and be trained by their experts. We would like to thank them for their support, encouragement and for providing us with well-planned and very organised activities. We are looking forward to continued collaboration, future guidance, and capacity building as we aspire to a greater height.

Group image of two males and three females

Group image of several people sat around a dinner table
Remedios and Mary Ann and colleagues from APHA during the 9th ARAE International Symposium held in Tours, France

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Tafadzwa Lewis Mabhedhla posted on

    Wonderful, great work. The team is humble is showing achievement in delivering researched and today's key issues. Im glad you worked on Campylobacter, Campylobacter is an exciting microorganism. However Salmonella has been more exciting particularly for me and even my projects and research, stories that I hear are somewhere in response to meat testing and microbiology in general. MALDI-TOF is also corresponding with the isolation of Campylobacter.