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Global Health research at the University of Oxford and its partners is broad reaching, bringing significant impact across all academic disciplines of medicine, the physical and life sciences, social sciences and humanities. The Diagnostics in Tropical and Infectious Disease (DiTi) award, run by the Translational Research Office, aims to strengthen the long-term partnership between Oxford University and Mahidol University by establishing partnerships and supporting collaborative projects to develop diagnostic devices for tropical and infectious diseases, with the goal of driving more translational research initiatives in global health. Read this interview from award winner Dr Chris Chew.

Dr Chris Chew, Clinical Researcher in Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Thailand

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself/your work

I’m a clinician-scientist in the field of Tropical Medicine and Global Health with a special interest in the health of populations in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, given my upbringing in Malaysia. I completed postgraduate medical training in the specialties of Infectious Diseases and Respiratory Medicine in 2017 and still practise clinically, but am now also actively building my profile as an academic. My research interests are diverse and multi-disciplinary, spanning clinical and translational research, epidemiology, health economics, implementation science, machine learning, and digital health, among others. 

How did you hear about the DiTi Call and what made you decide to apply?  

My co-investigators and I had been talking about potential translational research collaborations between our institutions for a while, so when I heard about the DiTi call through a departmental mass email, applying was a no-brainer. 

What is the biggest impact are you hoping to make with the research funded by the DiTi call? 

Tuberculosis is the second leading infective cause of death worldwide, but 41% of the 10 million people who develop tuberculosis annually go undiagnosed and, hence, untreated, leading to further spread of the disease. Most of the disease burden is borne by low- and middle-income countries in the tropics. In this research, the biggest impact I hope to make is widening access to diagnosis for people with tuberculosis, especially those in medically-underserved rural areas, through the novel rapid test for tuberculosis my team and I are developing. Should we be successful, we will have taken a big step forward in facilitating patients to be efficiently diagnosed closer to home in a safer, simpler, more comfortable, and cost-effective manner than is done presently. 

What would you like to see more in internal funding calls? 

More funds for translational research targeted towards under-resourced populations, with earmarked funding for early career researchers. I would also like to see the individual project funding caps for projects led by early career researchers being no less than those for non-early career researchers. 

What is the biggest challenge in your field? 

I’d say it is attracting, training, and retaining the most talented and driven minds from developing countries to work in academic Tropical Medicine and Global Health, particularly when there are so many better remunerated, more secure, and less demanding career paths. Having leaders from countries where the bulk of global health work is being done is crucial in decolonising and reshaping of this field which arose out of colonialism. 

What is one piece of advice you would give to an early career researcher? 

I’m still fairly early on in my career as a researcher too, but my piece of advice is something that has generally served me well career-wise so far – seize every opportunity that you come across and always ask for the things you want, even if they seem audacious. If you don’t ask, it’s pretty likely you won’t get!  

If you could change one thing in your field what would it be? Why? 

I would love to see stronger, more coordinated links between medical research and efforts to reduce poverty. After all, much of what we are trying to do in Tropical Medicine and Global Health pertains to diseases of poverty. Furthermore, there isn’t much point developing new diagnostics or therapeutics if they are not readily accessible to those who need them most. 

What is your dream alternate career? 

Before entering Medicine, I had wanted to join the Foreign Service and rise to the rank of Ambassador. So, if anyone knows of a diplomatic role that will make good use of my multilingualism and skills in healthcare, research, and strategic thinking, please let me know!  

What is currently top on your to do list? 

Learning how to be the best father I can be to my baby daughter. 

Dr Chris Chew is a Clinical Researcher at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Thailand and Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oxford. Find out more about Dr Chew's research interests here

About the Diagnostics in Tropical and Infectious Diseases award

The Translational Research Office (TRO) and the Mahidol-Oxford Translational Innovation Partnership (MOTIP) ran the Diagnostics in Tropical and Infectious Disease award with the aim to strengthen the long-term partnership between the University of Oxford and the Faculty of Tropical Medicine , Mahidol University through the newly established tropical medicine diagnostic development centre. The award looks to establish partnerships and support collaborative projects around the priority areas of novel diagnostics tools targeting development of the tropical healthcare setting.

The overseas centres provide comprehensive clinical and public health research programmes entirely focussed on the discovery and development of appropriate, practical, affordable interventions that measurably improve the health of people living in resource-limited parts of the world. Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), with its integrated, highly collaborative and flexible network of 5 research units and 50 sites across South East Asia, supports and conducts targeted patient-centred research addressing global and regional health problems. Current research strengths are the development of effective and practical means of diagnosing and treating tropical and infectious diseases.

Through this pilot call, MORU, MOTIP and the TRO aim to facilitate closer interactions between MORU- and Oxford-based teams that will support and mutually benefit global health research initiatives being led out of either location. The focus will be on diagnostic devices for tropical and infectious diseases, with the goal of driving more translational research initiatives in global health.