DEPARTMENT OF PATHOLOGY & LABORATORY MEDICINE MAGAZINE
Owen (Brad) Spiller, BMLSc’89
What is your current career or current educational program?
Head of Medical Microbiology at Cardiff University School of Medicine. Principle research investigator, medical student tutor and senior lecturer in infection and immunity.
If you are working, please describe what you do, in a few sentences.
I lead international research programs as the Head of Medical Microbiology in Cardiff, Wales. I coordinate clinical diagnostic trials as part of a Medical research team for the Cwm Taf Morgannwg (that’s in welsh folks!) University Health Board investigating rapid Antimicrobial Resistance diagnostics for sexually transmitted pathogens. I hold an honorary consulting microbiologist contract with Public Health England as the UK reference laboratory for antimicrobial resistance testing of Mollicutes (Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma species of clinical infections). I currently lead a European consortium that is establishing Antimicrobial Susceptibility testing for Legionella, a serious community acquired respiratory pathogen that causes outbreaks from contaminated spas, cooling towers and water towers in hospitals and care homes. I am an Adjunct Associate Professor for the University of Western Australia as part of an International consortium using an experimental infection model in pregnant sheep for in utero bacterial infection pathology and therapeutics development for developing neonates. Finally, over the last 2 years I have established antimicrobial resistance surveillance programmes in Ghana and Uganda as part of an international effort to reduce newborn deaths in Low-to-Middle Income Countries.
What has been your journey, since graduating from the BMLSc Program?
I completed a PhD at UBC in Pathology in 1995, then served as a post-doctoral fellow on research grants at the University of Wales College of Medicine before becoming a Wellcome Trust Career Development fellow in 2000. In 2005, I accepted a tenured position of Senior Lecturer in the Department of Child Health at University Hospital of Wales (Cardiff University). In 2020 I became the Head of Medical Microbiology at Cardiff University School of Medicine. The award of fellow for Wellcome Trust in 2000, was a significant event in my journey as was receiving an Adjunct Assistant Professorship from the University of Western Australia in 2015 and was promoted to Adjunct Associate Professorship in 2021. I was honoured to be recognized by the International Organization of Mycoplasmology with the Derrick Edward Award for outstanding research in Mycoplasmology in 2020.
How did your BMLSc degree help you to get where you are now?
The microbiology components of the BMLSc sparked a keen interest to investigate underlying mechanisms of pathogenesis arising from infections during pregnancy. It also introduced me to my PhD supervisor Dr. Dana Devine, who nurtured and trained me as the first step in becoming an independent researcher. I often returned for guidance and mentorship from Prof. Phil Reed and Prof. David Walker during my PhD and was never far from the helpful camaraderie of the lecturers in BMLSc stemming from the Devine and Brooks laboratories.
What is the most valuable experience you gained from the BMLSc Program?
To always strive for evidence-based medical research principles. Never accept a dogma or viewpoint without knowing the supporting literature for yourself. Secondly never bias your analysis on an expectation of the outcome – always have a differential diagnosis to be ruled out.
What did you enjoy most about the BMLSc Program?
My favourite memory will always be the crazy experiment our year (the only time it was ever contemplated I believe) to have a “24-hour open book exam” – our class worked together through the night to support each other with resources and many strong friendships formed as a result.
What is one piece of advice that you would give to BMLSc students and recent graduates?
Never give up, believe in yourself and don’t accept that you have any limitations in achieving your goals – even if it means an unorthodox route to the eventual goal.