The prestigious Rolex Award for Enterprise is given to promising young entrepreneurs who are working on projects that – according to the website – “improve lives, or protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage.” Saudi microbiologist Hosam Zowawi was one of the five laureates under 30 to win the prize after he developed a test to quickly identify antibiotic resistant bacteria or ‘superbugs’.
Superbugs are an increasingly menacing health risk and until recently it would take up to 72 hours for doctors to identify them. In cases where patients require immediate treatment this gap between testing and identification could sometimes lead to fatal consequences when the doctor would be forced to treat the patient with a potentially ineffective antibiotic.
"Superbugs are an increasingly menacing health risk"
However, with the test developed by Zowawi, a 29-year-old microbiologist and PhD-student with the University of Brisbane in Australia, this gap could be almost eliminated. The Rapid Superbug Test identifies ‘superbugs’ in three to four hours. Zowawi’s test identifies bacteria with genes that make beta-lactamase enzymes, which enable bacteria to destroy key antibiotics like penicillin and carbapenems. He is also developing a second test that would identify a family of bacteria that commonly resist antibiotics.
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Zowawi is also working to promote knowledge and awareness of superbugs in the Gulf, a region where antibiotic resistance is spreading rapidly due to poor prescription practices and the fact that antibiotics can be bought over the counter.
A study that Zowawi and his supervisor David Paterson completed with the University of Queenland Centre for Clinical Research discovered that the amount of ‘superbugs’ resistant to carbapenem found in patients in the Gulf has increased up to 90 percent over the past two decades. As Zowawi explained to Your Middle East via email, he hopes that the campaign will reach other countries too and potentially become global.
Zowawi is organizing a campaign that will reach out to people through social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook as well as producing documentaries and spreading flyers and infographics.
“The beauty of our campaign is that it relies on our own research data that is generated from our own samples in the Gulf and delivered in our own language with our own people.”