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Nithya Babu Rajendran: The EPI-Net Surveillance Platform
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Dr. Nithya Babu Rajendran is a postdoctoral researcher with a background in molecular biology and microbiology. Due to an increasing interest in working with projects that alleviate public health issues, she shifted her focus from lab-based fundamental research to epidemiology.

She joined Evelina Tacconelli’s team in 2015 and has since been working full-time on the EPI-Net project. Besides research, she is also greatly interested in EPI-Net’s current efforts to expedite and improve access to scientific data. Finding fresh ideas to communicate data in visually-appealing, coherent ways as well as employing innovative online tools to provide a platform for these data is a challenge Nithya thoroughly enjoys.

What is your role in COMBACTE’s EPI-Net?

“Although my main responsibility is research, I am also involved in coordination of the projects. We have different studies running at the same time, and I have an overview of what is happening in each project and who is doing what.

One of the main goals of EPI-Net is to map surveillance systems across Europeand see how efficient they are in monitoring the burden of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). We gather qualitative and quantitative data from these surveillance systems, and analyze them to make sense of what is actually happening in the current situation in terms of AMR and HAI surveillance. We have already published several journal articles on our findings. Additionally, the quantitative data will be published and visualized on a platform: a website. I am very keen on communicating science not just through journals, but through other means as well – like this website.”

What will the EPI-Net website you are working towards entail?

“The idea is that we gather surveillance and outbreaks data on clinically-relevant pathogens and infections from multiple sources, including surveillance systems and studies, and publish it on the website. And the real uniqueness is the way one can visualize these data. We have created some very interactive, user-friendly data visualization tools. One of my personal favorites is a time series heat map with which Users can view all outbreaks reported for an antibiotic-resistant pathogen till date.

At the moment there isn’t any website of this sort, bringing together numbers on AMR and HAI from 32 different European countries collected from over 50 systems and 500 studies on one webpage. When we started working we gathered the data, analyzed it, and published it through journal articles. Now we get to share this data with the public, people who do not read journal articles or PhD students who are simply keen on knowing for example if MRSA is still a problem in Germany. They would simply have to go to this website, click a few filters and they would quickly find out the scale of MRSA presence and spread. They would also be able to compare this to other European countries.”

When will the website be launched?

“Currently the website is fully functional, and we are looking at the public release in September. We asked feedback from surveillance experts, people within the COMBACTE consortium, as well as big public health organizations (ECDC, WHO). They can give us really effective pointers, which can be used to improve the website before it goes public.”

What are the next steps after launching the website?

“It’s a matter of adding new features to it, updating data regularly, and making sure that the website functions well. One particular new tool envisioned is one that provides intervention strategies to healthcare centers based on surveillance data they submit to the platform. This would see establishment of the EPI-Net excellence center, use of statistical modelling for an interactive web-based tool, and add a whole new level of clinical applicability for the website.”