Spurring Action Against AMR: Spotlight on Iyiola Oladunjoye
Iyiola Oladunjoye is dedicated to inspiring early career microbiologists to explore careers they are passionate about and leverage their scientific expertise to tackle the most pressing public health issues. Oladunjoye is an Erasmus+ scholarship awardee of the Leading International Vaccinology Education program and a second-year master’s student studying immunology, immunopathology and infectious and tropical diseases at several universities, including Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and Universitat de Barcelona in Spain; University of Antwerp in Belgium; and Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 and Université Jean-Monnet Saint-Etienne in France. He asserts that public outreach and education are key for inspiring tomorrow’s microbiology leaders.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a topic of particular importance to Oladunjoye, as it is something that has directly impacted his family and community. In 2015, when Oladunjoye was 17, his father passed away from septic shock due to complications from pneumonia caused by a multidrug-resistant pathogen. Just 2 years later, Oladunjoye began an internship position at the University of Ilorin Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, which he said gave him a “broader perspective” on his father’s diagnosis, though this time through the observation of cattle.
“While conducting an antibiogram test on bacterial pathogens, I shriveled at discovering how grossly insensitive these microbes were to the arsenal of antibiotics available to treat farm animals in north-central Nigeria. It was shocking and painful to note that AMR threatens animals and humans alike,” he explained. “[When treated by veterinarians], the animals had the same challenge as my dad in being administered a failed combination antibiotic therapy to treat their critical illnesses.”
While working as an undergraduate researcher at the lab of Ismaila Olatunji Sule, Ph.D., in the Department of Microbiology at University of Ilorin, Oladunjoye isolated and characterized pathogenic bacteria from abattoir wastewater (i.e., untreated wastewater from slaughterhouses) and subjected pure isolates of pathogenic bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Salmonella spp., to antibiotic testing. Oladunjoye ultimately found that most of the pathogens in these samples were drug-resistant microbes.
“I was able to demonstrate, through my undergraduate research, the epidemiological linkage establishing the transfer of resistant bacteria from animals to the environment through wastewater contamination, which may lead to possible infection of humans via water-borne diseases,” he said. “I became intrigued at understanding the molecular mechanisms by which these bacterial pathogens, especially [those belonging to the] ESKAPE family—classified as priority pathogens according to the World Health Organization (WHO)—acquire resistance, and how they establish infection in animals and humans. I want to study their genetic information—especially the genes that confer resistance—and how mutation occurs in them. [I am] hoping to derive insights into novel therapeutics and vaccines.” It was, in part, this line of query that inspired Oladunjoye to become a One Health advocate.
“I started reading a lot more about the One Health approach, and this broadened my perspective, beyond microbiology to multidisciplinary approaches, and helped me realize that, as a microbiologist, I could contribute not only to human health, but also environmental and animal health,” he added.
With AMR and One Health at the forefront of Oladunjoye’s microbiology journey, his undergraduate research continued examining the isolation of pathogenic bacteria from wastewater in slaughterhouses. Oladunjoye noted that in Nigeria, many public slaughterhouses do not treat their wastewater before it is discharged. So, when the water is released, pathogenic organisms (which Oladunjoye identified as being drug-resistant) can bring cholera and other waterborne diseases that are difficult to treat to nearby communities. Today, he has published research in more than 30 publications, with many papers focusing on the impacts of drug-resistant microbes.
“[My] research and experiences helped me understand that one of the ways we can solve some challenges we are facing in Africa, like zoonosis—with cases of Lassa fever, Marburg virus disease, Ebola and other infectious diseases—as well as antimicrobial resistance, which are typically One Health issues, is by providing vaccine solutions to this problem,” he explained.
Oladunjoye noted that while Nigeria sees numerous microbiology graduates every year—in his undergraduate class there were more than 200 students who graduated with microbiology degrees—there are often not enough paid positions (nor awareness about available positions) that directly support sustainable public health solutions, like vaccine development. "The lack of clear career paths, and also the inability for us to find solutions to problems, [like AMR], is something I've been trying to effectively work toward,” Oladunjoye said. “The microbial sciences in Nigeria are not always well appreciated...I feel like a lot of students are also getting discouraged, because when they study microbiology, they can't think of any career prospects for themselves.”
As Oladunjoye started applying for graduate school in 2021, he also applied to be an ASM Young Ambassador in hopes of reaching aspiring scientists across Nigeria. Since becoming a Young Ambassador, Oladunjoye said his interactions with students “serve as a beacon of hope.” As he shares his achievements in the microbial sciences, he sees students realize what they may accomplish as well. Oladunjoye has hosted several seminars and professional development workshops, where he invites experts from various industries and academic disciplines to speak with students about a wide array of professions linked to microbiology-related skillsets.
“We need to think actively about how [recent graduates] can contribute to sustainable development,” he said. “I am grateful to ASM for giving me this platform [as a Young Ambassador], because I don’t think I would have had the ability to reach [as many students] otherwise.”
Oladunjoye also helped establish 3 ASM Student and Postdoctoral Chapters in Nigeria in collaboration with the Nigerian Association of Microbiology Students. Chapters are now located at Kwara State University (KWASU), Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU) and University of Ilorin (UNILORIN). Chapter leadership will help students gain access to ASM resources, ASM membership and collaborative opportunities with other student chapters to facilitate cross-disciplinary projects.
Oladunjoye wants to keep this momentum going and encourages early-career scientists to also serve as ambassadors of science within their own communities, especially individuals living in low- and middle-income countries.
“Growing up in Nigeria, a low-and middle-income country in Africa, I have a firsthand experience of how insufficient investment in sciences affects and impacts the goals of young and aspiring scientists like me. This often leads to discouragement, where some [students] abandon sciences in general, or leads to brain drain, where young scientists have to leave the country to establish their careers in the United States or European countries,” Oladunjoye said.
Oladunjoye noted that countries in Africa bear about 25% of the global disease burden, while the world research input is about 2%, and research spending at about 1.3%. “I believe this situation could be addressed by enhancing global collaboration and increasing investment in training and capacity building of African scientists, whilst addressing the infrastructural gaps,” he emphasized. “It is also important for African scientists abroad to think actively of how they can utilize their advanced training, resources and connections to give back to their communities. Africans need to actively find solutions to prevailing challenges in Africa, as this would help address many global health challenges.”
Oladunjoye recently received the 2023 Diana Award, a highly prestigious accolade awarded to a young person for their social action or humanitarian work. Looking forward, Oladunjoye will continue inspiring early-career scientists to take on leadership positions within the microbial sciences, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as a recently selected member of the ASM MicroBio-LEAP Task Force. The task force aims to encourage microbiology leaders to embrace and support inclusive diversity with equity, access and accountability (IDEAA) in STEM.
“When I tell students, 'As a graduate, I was here 5 years ago today, and this is what I've accomplished,' to me, this embodies the true essence of leadership—to inspire people to action, regardless of the challenges we may face, and scale through adversity,” he said. “It is about fostering a community where everyone's unique strengths and perspectives are embraced, and, collectively, we work toward finding innovative solutions to the most pressing global challenges. Leadership goes beyond personal success; it is about empowering others to rise and thrive in their pursuit of knowledge and positive impact. By sharing our journeys and accomplishments, we ignite a spark of inspiration that has the potential to lead a chain reaction of change, making the world a better place for all.”