Microbiologist Premjit Amornchai heads MORU’s Bio-Safety Level (BSL) 3 Laboratory in Bangkok, Thailand. Safety is very important for Premjit. The BSL3 Lab handles several dangerous materials, most notably, Burkholderia pseudomallei, a highly pathogenic bacterium commonly found in soil and water in Southeast Asia and northern Australia. The pathogen causes the difficult to diagnose, deadly bacterial infection melioidosis.
To prevent relapse or reinfection, melioidosis requires a specific and prolonged treatment. Melioidosis is endemic at least 45 countries, but greatly under-reported, with a microbiological culture required to confirm diagnosis. This can take 2-7 days. In Thailand, up to 40 percent of hospital admitted melioidosis patients die. Premjit works with MORU researchers who have produced a rapid diagnostic test that aims to improve both diagnosis and public awareness of melioidosis.
Ultimately, medical research must translate into improved treatments for patients. At the Nuffield Department of Medicine, our researchers collaborate to develop better health care, improved quality of life, and enhanced preventative measures for all patients. Our findings in the laboratory are translated into changes in clinical practice, from bench to bedside.
My name is Premjit Amornchai. I come from Ubon Ratchathani, in the northeast of Thailand. I am the BSL 3 Lab Manager, Area Safety Officer and a Microbiologist at MORU.
Q: What kind of materials do you handle in your BSL 3 lab?
Premjit Amornchai: The material I handle is Burkholderia pseudomallei. This organism has been classified as a bioweapon organism by the CDC, USA. This is a dangerous bacteria. It can normally be found in rice paddy fields, in the soil and in the water. Thailand, especially the northeast of Thailand, is an endemic area for melioidosis, the disease caused by this bacteria. This disease is not unknown, just under reported. We need to promote and give knowledge to physicians and microbiologists so they know about this organism. This disease is endemic not only in Thailand and Australia, but also around the world; China also has cases of melioidosis, Malasia, Lao also because they are neighbours of Thailand, as well as Cambodia, Brazil, Bangladesh.
The symptoms of melioidosis are similar to those of other diseases like TB, malaria, leptospirosis or scrub typhus, so it is difficult to diagnose. Melioidosis also needs a specific treatment which is different from other bacterial infections. Melioidosis needs prolonged treatment: the treatment is completed in around 20 weeks. If you do not complete the treatment, you can relapse or be reinfected again. In Thailand, especially in the northeast, the mortality rate is 40%. For other countries, I think it is less than that, but it is still high and we need them to be aware of this disease.
Q: What are the challenges and difficulties in your work?
PA: The challenge of my work is to improve our rapid test to help diagnose melioidosis and to reduce the diagnosis time. In the past, we used the standard immunofluorescence antibody assay to detect the antigen of Burkholderia pseudomallei from clinical samples. That took around 2 hours, but right now, we take only 15 minutes to get results.
Q: What are the benefits for you working at MORU? What do you like about it?PA: Oh, I like everything, especially I learned a lot how to do research here, how to work with the team. In MORU, we have many research groups such as scrub typhus group, rickettsia group and also the malaria group, molecular, cell bio, immunology. We have many groups that we can share opinions with and share the work together. If we want to collaborate with others, they are always happy to join us.