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Championing Medical Mycology: Thoughts On The AFWG Laboratory Skills Enhancement Course

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By Dr Maria Christina Batac

Why did you apply for the AFWG Laboratory Skills Enhancement Course?

I really wanted to learn more about establishing and running a mycology laboratory, so I felt privileged to be one of the first to have completed the AFWG course. The whole experience turned out well largely because of the mentorship of Professor Yee-Chun Chen (professor of medicine at the National Taiwan University Hospital [NTUH], Taipei, Taiwan), one of the champions of medical mycology in Taiwan and Asia. She was a perfect mentor to me because her career path is something I emulate. Professor Chen wasn’t content with just clinical work – she wanted to learn more about molecular epidemiology and antifungal resistance mechanisms and became heavily involved in research, which helped her manage her patients better.

What was your experience like at the laboratory?

My month-long program included observation duties at the NTUH lab, where the staff was well trained and generous with their knowledge. My favorite part was being in the mycology laboratory, which was very modern. I learned how fungal agents were cultured, isolated and identified from various specimens. In the lab, I was able to review how to identify fungi using slide cultures and lactophenol cotton blue (LPCB) mounts in the routine laboratory and Professor Chen’s research laboratory under the direction of Ms Pan. I was very interested in how they stored fungal isolates in distilled water kept at room temperature. I was given a hands-on experience reviving isolates from freeze-dried conditions.

Was your course limited to NTUH?

Not at all! We visited the Department of Dermatology in Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, and its newly opened medical mycology lab headed by Dr Pei-Lun Sun. Dr Sun gave me a one-on-one lecture and shared some interesting cases. It was great for me to see his lab because it gave me an idea of the kind of lab I want to set up. Dr Chi-Jung Wu also showed me her laboratory at the National Cheng Kung University Medical College and facilitated a meeting with Dr Ming-Long Hsu, who dedicated many years of his dermatology practice to medical mycology.

Aside from all the lab exposure, I was also invited to join clinical conferences. Networking with other mycology experts in Taiwan was a valuable learning experience. It was inspiring to hear their stories about the difficulties in starting out, but because they were passionate about their field, they persevered and cultivated medical mycology in their country and influenced its growth in Asia.

How can you apply what you learned from the course in your work?

Professor Chen encouraged me to be more involved with research on the role of the mycology reference labs in Asian countries. I started the research during my stay in Taiwan, and hope to collaborate with other experts in the field. I plan to join the medical microbiology faculty in my university and refurbish its medical mycology laboratory. My initial research will focus on the epidemiology of cutaneous and subcutaneous mycoses in my country, such as onychomycosis (dermatophyte and non-dermatophyte molds, Candida species), tinea capitis and subcutaneous mycoses. I hope to contribute publications on interesting or rare cases to help physicians who might encounter similar infections. I also want to establish a fungal isolate bank of reference and clinical isolates.

Any final thoughts on the course?

I want to congratulate AFWG on all their hard work. The AFWG website opened the doors for me to join this program. There is a wealth of information that can be gained from the course and participants can take full advantage of it. I hope AFWG can continue offering these kinds of courses and continue to champion medical mycology in the region. AFWG can certainly rely on my participation in their future research projects.

Dr Batac attended the AFWG Laboratory Skills Enhancement Course from 5 June to 4 July 2017 at the National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.


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