Anny Camargo’s Colombian research on Clostridium perfringens

28th April 2023

Dr Anny Camargo Mancipe is a Colombian medical doctor visiting the Quadram Institute's Hall group to learn new techniques for studying Clostridium perfringens bacteria. We caught up with Anny to find out more about her career, her research and her experience working at the Quadram Institute.

A young woman wearing a lab coat and cloves standing next to a laboratory bench.

Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium that can be found in the intestinal tract of humans and animals, in soil and in poorly prepared food. This bacterium can cause food poisoning, intestinal necrosis and tissue disease in humans and animals. We are interested in this bacterium because it can affect the most vulnerable people.

I am from a rural community in the Boyacá region of Colombia, in South America. When I was a child, I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. The possibility of becoming a doctor seemed slim because my family did not have the money to pay for training.

But my dream came true when I received a scholarship from the Universidad de Boyacá for being an outstanding student. With this scholarship, I studied medicine for six years. Then I spent a year as a doctor working in rural areas, which is part of medical training in Colombia.

In Colombia there are some places, especially in rural areas of Boyacá, where there is a lot of poverty. There is a lack of access to drinking water, refrigerators and sanitation measures. These places have higher rates of transmission of microbes such as C. perfringens and it is the elderly and children who are most at risk of getting sick. This is why I want to learn more about the biology of this bacterium, how to prevent it and share the knowledge with my community.

One day, while working as a doctor in these rural areas, the Universidad de Boyacá contacted me to offer me an opportunity to do a PhD at the Centro de Investigaciones en Microbiología y Biotecnología de la Universidad del Rosario (CIMBIUR) under the direction of Dr. Marina Muñoz Diaz and Dr. Juan David Ramírez. I accepted and it was then that I started my research on C. perfringens.

A One Health approach to studying Clostridium perfringens

I am the principal investigator of a project that focuses on the identification and characterisation of circulating C. perfringens in humans, animals and food in the Colombian Cundiboyacense Altiplano area.

I believe that the whole ecosystem is important in the transmission of infectious diseases. If you study humans, animals, and the environment together, you can learn more about how to prevent disease.

Anny inside a barn with a farmer and a cow

My parents are teachers in rural schools. They teach about life and nature. They taught me that all life is connected and that the best way to help is to educate. I think my project is inspired by that and uses a unique approach to health. My father also loves my research and has helped me collect samples with his students, who will also be great scientists one day.

When we visit rural communities there is a lot of poverty, animals drink water from the same places as humans, people cannot refrigerate their food, floors are dirty, and there are other conditions that can help the bacteria spread.

Together with other researchers from my university in Colombia, we take microscopes, leaflets and videos to farms to teach about bacteria. During these visits we take samples of human and animal faeces and food to learn more about how bacteria spread between organisms. We have collected around 700 samples from healthy humans, patients with gastrointestinal symptoms, animals and food in various municipalities in Boyacá.

Building bioscience skills

When I started my PhD, I read a lot of papers on C. perfringens and came across research from Professor Lindsay Hall’s group based at the Quadram Institute. They study bacteria in babies and I found that fascinating.

I told my supervisor Marina that my dream was to visit the Quadram Institute. The possibility seemed very low because we did not know anyone and coming to England from Colombia is very expensive.

But through a shared contact from Marina, my research was mentioned to Lindsay Hall and they talked about the possibility of me coming to the Quadram Institute. Lindsay is wonderful and she accepted my academic visit and thanks to the support of the University of Boyacá, my group CIMBIUR, the Universidad del Rosario and the Ministry of Sciences of Colombia – Minciencias; I got a scholarship to come here to the Quadram Institute to the Lindsay Hall group.

I am working with Dr. Raymond Kiu in the Hall group to learn bioinformatics skills on how to analyse C. perfringens genomic data. They have taught me many tools to analyse DNA sequences. In the lab I am also learning about the colon model. I love the colon model!

I joined the Quadram Institute in January. The cold weather was a shock, but it was fascinating to see a snowy day in Norwich!

I think the Quadram Institute is a great institute, the research here is excellent, the building is wonderful, and the people are friendly.

Communicating with communities in Colombia

Anny holding the microphone for a child speaking on the radio

Thanks to funding from Minciencias and partner universities, we visit farms, hospitals and rural schools in Boyacá and teach children and adults to wash their hands and handle food. We take the children to visit the laboratories of the University of Boyacá and use microscopes to see the bacteria.

We have made videos about our research and also share them through social media.

Together with the children, we have made radio programmes to further spread the message. Radio is an important way to communicate our research because it is one of the main ways that people in rural communities in Colombia obtain information.

When I return to Colombia, I will visit hospitals and visit universities to share the results of this research.

In the future, after my PhD I would like to continue this and other research in my country. I am interested in the intestinal microbiota and those associated with bacterial infections.

When I finish my doctorate, I will also continue teaching at the University of Boyacá on topics such as infectious diseases and medicine. I am interested in the intestinal microbiota and those associated with bacterial infections.

I want to continue to seek funding to reach out to communities and teach underprivileged children and youth that they too can become great scientists. We are the size of our dreams.

I love my research because through science I can help people and I have the opportunity to study, travel, get to know different cultures and grow not only as a scientist but as a person. I have not done this alone, all thanks to the support from my family, my teachers and my colleagues who have taught me that the sky is the limit.

I think this quote from Isaac Newton sums up our research: “If I have been able to see beyond, it has been because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”.”

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Related Targets

Targeting antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial Resistance

Targeting food safety

Food Safety

Targeting the understanding of the microbiome

Understanding the Microbiome

Related Research Groups

Hall Group

Lindsay Hall

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