The international group Phages for Global Health (PGH), headed by its president and founder Dr. Tobi Nagel, partnered with the University of Santo Tomas – BEATS (Bacteriophage Ecology, Aquaculture, Therapy and Systematics) Research Group to conduct the very first hands-on Bacteriophage Workshop in South East Asia. It was held from May 8 to 12, 2023, at the Roque Laboratory of the Graduate School and the biology laboratories of the College of Science at the Central Laboratory Building.
UST-BEATS is the pioneering group of phage researchers in the Philippines headed by Asst. Prof. Donna May Papa, Ph.D. of the College of Science, the Research Center for the Natural and Applied Sciences, and the Graduate School.
PGH has been working tirelessly to facilitate the application of antibacterial phage technology in the developing world. The health organization has two different types of programs anchored in their mission to promote the use of phages: the conduct of Laboratory Training Workshops in developing countries and conduct Product Development Projects where they create international, multi-disciplinary teams that co-develop phage products for specific applications. They have initially conducted training sessions in Africa, but have since branched out to SouthEast Asia in 2022. As such, PGH funded all expenses for the participants and instructors for this workshop.
Bacteriophages or phages are viruses that specifically target bacterial organisms and are not harmful to human, animal or plant cells. They are used and even sold commercially in other countries as alternatives to antibiotics to help address the growing global concern against antimicrobial resistance not just in the medical field but also in the Food industry, Aquaculture, Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine.
Internationally renowned phage experts such as 𝗗𝗿. 𝗠𝗮𝗿𝘁𝗵𝗮 𝗖𝗹𝗼𝗸𝗶𝗲 (University of Leicester, United Kingdom), 𝗗𝗿. 𝗦𝘂𝗻𝗲𝗲 𝗞𝗼𝗿𝗯𝘀𝗿𝗶𝘀𝗮𝘁𝗲 (Mahidol University, Thailand), 𝗗𝗿. 𝗛𝗲𝗲𝗿𝗮 𝗥𝗮𝗷𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗮𝘀 and 𝗗𝗿. 𝗦𝗶𝘃𝗮𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗱𝗿𝗮𝗻 𝗣𝗮𝗿𝗶𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗻𝗮𝗻 (AIMST University, Malaysia) joined 𝗗𝗿. 𝗗𝗼𝗻𝗻𝗮 𝗠𝗮𝘆 𝗣𝗮𝗽𝗮 (University of Santo Tomas, Philippines) and 𝗗𝗿. 𝗥𝗼𝗻 𝗗𝘆 (University of the Philippines – Diliman, Philippines) and 𝗗𝗿. 𝗧𝗼𝗯𝗶 𝗡𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗹 served as workshop facilitators and instructors.
The workshop was attended by participants from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and from all over the Philippines. They were asked to join either a workshop on basic phage research methods or a training in bioinformatics.
The workshop on phage methods included sample collection, isolation, purification and amplification of phages, webbed plate preparation, one-step growth experiments up to DNA extraction while the workshop on bioinformatics included trainings on processing phage sequences, training on installation and troubleshooting of virtualization engines was done in order to run Ubuntu and Linux in windows systems, sample exercises were given on basics of linux and coding language in installation of softwares, pre-processing and quality control of sequence data, de novo assembly of phage sequences, genome annotation and core gene analysis and phylogenetic analysis of processed sample sequences.
The culminating activity included reports delivered by the participants based on the results they generated and the learnings they gained during the workshop.
Apart from capacity building and teaching phage biology to scientists in South East Asia, the PGH and the UST BEATS Research group aimed to create a consortium of phage biologists in the region through this workshop to further phage research and to exchange knowledge between institutions from the different countries in Southeast Asia. They are also looking into antibacterial phage technology as an alternative to antibiotics since antimicrobial resistance is one of the major concerns in the region.