An Interview with Pf Neil Woodford

An Interview with Pf Neil Woodford


  • Post By : Microbioz India
  • Source:
  • Date: 05 June, 2015

As we introduce our readers each month with Scientists/Academician, this month Microbioz India team performed an Interview with one of eminent Scientist and famous Microbiologist from England, named Pf.Neil Woodford, Head, Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infections Reference Unit (AMRHAI), Public Health England. Here are few interesting points of interview with Pf.Woodford are given.

Microbioz team:Why did you opt for microbiology as a career?

Pf.Neil: Growing up I was convinced that I wanted to be a vet, but when I turned 17, I focused my studies on microbes and infection. After completing my first degree in microbiology, I combined a part-time PhD with working as a research technician at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London (it was at St Mary’s Hospital that Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin). During this time I was studying antibiotic resistance in gonococci (the bacteria that cause gonorrhoea) and it struck me how crucial an issue antibiotic resistance was in clinical microbiology and medicine.

Focusing my career on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has proven to be an exciting and timely choice, particularly when you consider the current international focus, huge political interest and increasing public awareness of AMR as a key issue facing humanity

Microbioz team: Tell us a little more about your professional experiences; particularly any not mentioned in your resume/application?

Pf.Neil: I have worked for Public Health England (PHE) and its predecessor organizations for almost 30 years, and in 2012 I was asked to develop and lead PHE’s Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infections (AMRHAI) Reference Unit; merging what had previously been two separate laboratories. This has certainly been a challenge, but PHE’s newly formed AMRHAI Unit has continued to grow in size and contribute to UK-wide and international work on AMR.In addition to my role at PHE, I am a scientific advisor to the independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, which was established in 2014 by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and is led by leading economist Jim O’Neill. I also serve on the advisory panel for the Longitude Prize 2014. The Longitude Prize will award up to £10million to anyone that can develop, or make inroads in developing, a diagnostic test that will conserve antibiotics for future generations. Having the opportunity to work actively with collaborators at numerous universities and a wide range of organizations across UK and overseas is another highly enjoyable aspect of my role.

Microbioz team: What is the favourite part of your current job and why is it your favourite part?

Pf.Neil Woodford:It was always great fun designing novel assays at the bench, but now my role is more focused on leading and overseeing the strategic direction of PHE’s AMRHAI Unit, which is highly enjoyable. The breadth of work around AMR has given me fantastic opportunities throughout my career, which perfectly suits my ambitious nature. I strive to introduce new technologies. Seeing them introduced as research methods and then developed and validated to the point where they can be offered for reference service delivery is essential as we deal with ever-increasing workloads, and the need to give our service users and other client’s accurate results faster. Throughout my career I have been (and still am at PHE) lucky enough to work with exceptionally talented people, and together we continue to deliver a body of published work that we are immensely proud of. Working for PHE allows me to interact on a daily basis with a huge and multidisciplinary group of scientific and medical colleagues, both at Colindale (our London laboratory base) and elsewhere in the organisation.The breadth and depth of their expertise in microbiology, epidemiology, bioinformatics and modeling (to name just a few disciplines) makes it a great place to work.

Microbioz team: How does your background and experience strengthen this academic department?

Pf.Neil: My Unit at Public Health England is not an academic department; we offer a large range of reference microbiology services, characterizing multiple bacterial species. In addition we do sentinel laboratory-based surveillance projects, contracted evaluations of novel antibiotics and diagnostic tests, and grant-funded research projects. Managing these diverse activities draws on all of my experiences on a daily basis. It’s humbling to think that we’re building another chapter in the historical tradition at Colindale, of support to the clinical community, international collaborations and deep knowledge and expertise. I lead a team of almost 60 people and they regularly teach me new science; it’s my job to keep them doing that science, finding opportunities to fund the innovative work that drives reference microbiology forwards. I empower my senior team and challenge them constantly to reinvent themselves and what we do. Somehow, I manage to juggle science and management. My Unit is also a WHO Collaborating Centre, which allows us to contribute to efforts to increase international capability and share our experiences with colleagues from other countries. This two-way learning process is tremendously rewarding. We are currently witnessing huge changes in clinical and reference microbiology, especially with the scale on which we now use techniques like whole genome sequencing; these would have been inconceivable five or even 10 years ago. At PHE, my Unit collaborates widely which is why we are recognized internationally. I am determined that our science will continue to be groundbreaking and to merit our excellent reputation.

Microbioz team: What are some of your proudest professional accomplishments?

Pf.Neil: It’s always a highlight for me when one of my team receives professional recognition for their work; this can be one of my PhD students passing their viva examination, seeing a colleague’s name on their first publication or getting their first research grant. Personally, I am incredibly proud to have risen through the ranks of PHE’s Reference Microbiology Services to lead the AMRHAI Unit. Our laboratory is highly regarded internationally and is an asset to the UK and North London.

Microbioz team: Mention few of your words in favour of Microbioz India.

Pf.Neil: Antimicrobial resistance is a huge international problem which must be tackled on an international scale. Microbioz India can play its part by disseminating key messages on antimicrobial resistance to help educate healthcare professionals.

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