Like many 11-year-olds, Alainna Jamal was glued to the TV. But she wasn’t watching cartoons.
In 2003, her hometown of Toronto, was in a panic in the face of a SARS outbreak. Jamal, though, found comfort on the nightly news — specifically, the doctors and health officials sharing their expertise. While others found the crisis apocalyptic, Jamal recalls thinking of it “as a puzzle that needed to be solved.”
“But we’re just sitting around waiting for things to really, really blow up before we do something, unfortunately.”
Two decades later, she’s still close to home, having earned her bachelor’s degree, medical degree, and Ph.D in epidemiology at the University of Toronto. Now, she’s focused on a puzzle that gets far less attention despite being far more deadly: antimicrobial resistance.
Jamal has made a particular impact, and earned a host of accolades, studying carbapenemase-producing Enterobacterales, or CPEs. They are antibiotic-resistant bacteria that the WHO has deemed a serious global threat. Her research, which employs epidemiological methods and genomics to track infections, highlights the dangers of CPE transmission in medical settings, and has already influenced infection-control procedures in hospitals across Ontario.
In the Covid-19 era, as doctors find fame as TV talking heads, Jamal has no illusions that her work will yield such celebrity. Though antimicrobial resistance kills nearly 6,000 Canadians annually and, in her view, could “dismantle modern medicine,” infection prevention simply isn’t a household topic. But to Jamal, that only makes the work more important.
“The best infections are the ones that are prevented,” she said. “But we’re just sitting around waiting for things to really, really blow up before we do something, unfortunately.”
— Lev Facher