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A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital


19 Jan 2016

Deborah Williamson appointed Deputy Director of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit

The Doherty Institute has welcomed Dr Deborah Williamson to the role of Deputy Director of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory (MDU PHL).

Born and bred in Scotland, Deborah’s most recent role was as a Clinical Microbiologist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) in Wellington, New Zealand.

Deborah completed a science degree and attended medical school in Glasgow before moving to London where she conducted her postgraduate training at St Mary’s Hospital and Imperial College. She then moved to Auckland in 2007 to train in microbiology and completed her PhD at the University of Auckland.

Deborah says that working at ESR gave her insights into the different ways in which science can be applied.

“From a clinical perspective, it can directly inform patient management. From a government agency perspective, science can be used to inform policy and practice, and from an academic perspective it can be much more exploratory and hypothesis-generating.”

Deborah was drawn to the Doherty Institute because of her keen interest in antibiotic resistant pathogens.

“I knew there was a lot of work going on here in that area, specifically around genomics and the public health impact of antibiotic resistance,” she says.

When asked if we need to be as fearful of antimicrobial resistance as we’re told, Deborah says: “We absolutely do. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest manmade threats of the modern age.

“The potential impact of antimicrobial resistance has not yet been fully felt in Australia and New Zealand, but in some parts of the world there are literally untreatable infections. You could go into hospital and there are no antibiotics to treat you. That’s an apocalyptic scenario.”

Deborah says a multi-pronged attack is needed to combat antimicrobial resistance.

“We urgently require identification of new antimicrobial compounds. Tim Stinear has just recently received a grant to do that.

“We also need improved surveillance of antibiotic resistant pathogens so we know what’s out there, where the genes and bacteria are moving.

“And the other important thing of course is using the antibiotics we’ve got responsibly through education and regulation of prescribers and the public.”

She acknowledges that educating the public around appropriate antibiotic use can be a challenging task.

“When people go to the doctor there is often an expectation they will come out with something. It can be a harder sell to say ‘go home and sit it out’.”

Deborah says that knowing she will be able to integrate research and public health practice is what gets her out of bed every morning.

“I’m really passionate about doing applied research that will inform effective public health interventions, and will have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of people in Australia and beyond.”

In her spare time, Deborah says she is a mother, taxi driver and cook in that order and she also does a bit of running. As for what she thinks of her new home in Melbourne: “The weather is schizophrenic, but it is a fabulous city and I feel very lucky to live here.”