After catching the figurative “research bug” from a summer job at a local research facility, Medicine Hat College alumnus Brent Weber is now dealing with an entirely different kind of contagion.
Weber is currently a PhD student studying microbiology at the University of Alberta. His graduate research involves a bacterium called Acinetobacter baumannii, a superbug known to cause infections in people with weakened immune systems. Unfortunately, this highly contagious and potentially deadly bacterium is becoming more commonplace and poses a serious threat to those with already compromised resistance to illness. Hospitals are particularly at risk, as was seen last spring at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton where one man died from infection caused by the bug.
According to Weber, this bug is not as prevalent in Canada as in other parts of the world but we are still vulnerable. He and his colleagues have a chance to stop these outbreaks from happening, but the process to develop, test and approve a new antibiotic can take years.
“Our lab is trying to understand what mechanisms, or virulence factors, A. baumannii uses to cause infection. If we can find what factors are essential for causing infection, we can then target them with novel (new) antibiotics,” said Weber, adding that existing antibiotics are becoming less and less useful against this superbug.
Life in the lab is not your typical 9 to 5 job, noted Weber. Researchers have individual projects and are able to work at their own pace. Although there are lab meetings and opportunities to collaborate with other researchers, Weber works independently much of the time.
“It never gets boring. Every day is completely different,” said Weber of his research. “Being the first to see something new is pretty rewarding.”
Weber always had an interest in the sciences and enrolled in MHC’s university transfer science program in 2006 to explore a broad range of courses. In addition to academics, he also had the opportunity to play soccer for the Rattlers which enhanced his college experience.
“Beginning my studies at the college was not only a great stepping stone from high school, but it also allowed me to develop skills and habits that helped my transition to the university environment,” said Weber.
“The classes were every bit as difficult as any class that I’ve taken in university, but having small class sizes and being able to get to know the instructors personally made getting through them that much easier. I learned what kind of effort it would take to be successful in my studies.”
He admits that during his initial years of post-secondary schooling, he didn’t have the grades but that changed when he started with Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) at Suffield after his first year of university.
“I got lucky,” he said of the opportunity at DRDC. “It was my first taste of real science in the research lab. Since then, it’s been lots of hard work.”
*Photo courtesy of Nancy L. Price
Shanna MohnsAlumni Relations Clerk
Tel: 403.504-3667Fax: firstname.lastname@example.org
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