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Image: thanmano/Adobe Stock

Image: thanmano/Adobe Stock

University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research virologist Dr Kym Lowry unearthed a passion for science during university, leading her to a 19-year career in the infectious diseases industry.

All these years later – despite work taking her around the world – Dr Lowry remains most at home in a laboratory.

“I genuinely still enjoy working at the bench and progressing projects,” Dr Lowry explains.

“I love working in the lab, teaching students and inspiring interest in research, good methodologies, and generating evidence through experimentation.”

Dr Lowry, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Microbial Diagnostics and Characterisation Group, is currently researching the types of respiratory viruses that have circulated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am a virologist with interests in virus evolution and transmission dynamics – basically how a virus evolves and adapts in the community to continue to spread.

"I'm analysing the types of respiratory viruses that have circulated despite preventative health measures mostly eliminating other community acquired respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 and influenza.

“From an evolutionary point of view, this provides great insight into viruses’ ability to transmit when there is less competition from other circulating viruses.”

Dr Lowry’s interest in virus evolution stems from her time working in a World Health Organization (WHO) reference laboratory after completing her science degree.

“I worked in a WHO Reference Laboratory for Arboviruses in the South East Asian region. We researched viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, particularly dengue,” she explains.

“We tracked the spread of such viruses – especially during outbreaks – to help inform health authorities so they could plan preventative measures in the community, and also for longer-term development for vaccines and therapeutics.

“It is important to monitor changes in these viruses over time – such is the case with SARS-CoV-2 right now – to determine whether current vaccines will continue to be effective against contemporary strains that are circulating.”

Dr Lowry was also seconded part-time to the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Tropical Disease Research Unit to work on mosquito-borne viruses of threat to ADF and civilian personnel.

“I spent time in Hanoi, where I trained military personnel from the Vietnamese People’s Army in laboratory techniques for dengue detection and characterisation. It was part of a project with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

The role was a slight departure from the more traditional research roles she was accustomed to, but one in which Dr Lowry witnessed her research work having a direct impact outside the lab.

“Seeing your research culminate in a therapeutic treatment that can save or improve human lives is pretty special,” Dr Lowry shared.

“I would say that my biggest career achievement has been applying my molecular biology and virology skills to pharmaceutical outcomes that are now commercially available to treat patients and prevent infections.

“I worked briefly on a Japanese encephalitis vaccine program for Australia and this vaccine is now approved in Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.”

Kym Lowry in the lab

Dr Lowry’s research at UQCCR extends beyond viruses. Her team, led by Associate Professor David Whiley, is also working on rapid testing for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) markers for a range of bacterial infections, including sexually transmitted infections.

“Our research aims to quickly identify AMR markers in organisms causing infection in Queensland patients, in order to inform clinicians of appropriate treatments in a timely manner,” Dr Lowry explains.

“Continuous improvement of rapid testing is vital for expedient patient care, as well as monitoring organisms as they evolve.”

Bacterial cells

This story is featured in the Summer 2021 edition of UQmedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine, visit our blog, MayneStream.