Journey with an Outbreak Detective. Destination - the genomics revolution
Professor Sharon Peacock (CBE, FMedSci, University of Cambridge and Public Health England)
Lecture Theatre E29, Biomedical Sciences Building
The annual Sir Anthony Epstein Lecture hosted by the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Abstract: The standard way to detect and investigate outbreaks of infectious diseases was first developed more than 150 years ago. This depends on ‘shoe leather detectives’ who meticulously collect and piece together all of the available information on possible links between cases so as to identify the suspected cause of the outbreak – be that contaminated food or water, or the spread of an infectious agent from person-to-person. But the stage is set for a major change in practice. The genomics revolution that has taken hold over the last decade has provided the technology to replace this with ‘genome detectives.’ The process starts with routine sequencing of bacteria that are known to cause outbreaks (such as MRSA) after which their genomes are compared to determine how closely related they are, a ‘Sequence First’ approach. Those isolates that are highly related are then investigated rapidly to bring an outbreak to a close while those that are not can be ignored, saving time from false alarms. In this talk, I will describe the science behind this revolution and the steps we are taking to bring this innovation into routine use for the benefit of patients and public health.
Biography: Professor Sharon Peacock is Director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at the University of Cambridge, and an honorary consultant microbiologist at the Cambridge clinical and public health laboratory based at Addenbrookes Hospital. She has been a Non-Executive Director at the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust since 2015, where she is chair of the Quality Committee and a member of the Board and Audit Committees. Sharon has worked as an academic microbiology in the United Kingdom and South East Asia for the last 25 years, during which she has trained 22 PhD students, published more than 400 scientific articles and book chapters, and currently manages >£9M of funding as Principle Investigator.
She was awarded a CBE for services to medical microbiology in 2015, and the Unilever Colworth Prize in 2018 for outstanding contribution to translational microbiology. Beyond microbiology, Sharon has a degree in History and has a long-standing interest in music, which most recently has focused on the choral tradition. She is married with three children.
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