DefeatDD bids happy retirement to the incom-poo-rable Lou Bourgeois
We couldn't let Lou depart without his own Poo Guru apparel. Photo: Allison Clifford.
It’s the end of an era for PATH and for the DefeatDD team. After 15 years at PATH, Dr. Lou Bourgeois, a well-known investigator in the field of enteric vaccine research, is retiring. Before he leaves his laptop behind to embark on travel adventures with his family (including six grandchildren), we sat down with him to reflect on his exceptional career in infectious disease research.
Q: What made you want to initially pursue a career in vaccine research?
After finishing my PhD at Georgetown, I took my first job within the infectious disease research program of the United States Navy, as an active-duty Naval officer and over the course of my career I spent over 10 years in various parts of South Asia, Northeast Africa and South America. These assignments gave me the opportunity to studies disease that could be better controlled with effective vaccines. I left the Navy to evaluate early-stage enteric vaccines within the Department of International Health at John Hopkins University before joining PATH.
Q: What are you most proud of in your career?
I feel that I have made contributions to improved methods for evaluating the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and I enjoyed being a part of the innovative research teams at PATH helping to move vaccine research forward. In research, the idea of being the one to discover an effective treatment of preventive intervention is great, but that rarely happens because you are always part of a group. Overall, I just feel lucky to have been part of such great PATH teams.
Q: What do you think is one of the most important things to know about diarrheal disease?
It has not gone away – diarrheal disease continues to be a problem today. Great work has been done to reduce diarrhea mortality, but the burden of disease still persists in many parts of the world. As the effects of climate change increase the burden may increase. In addition, we now have a better appreciation of both the acute and more-long term impact of these endemic diseases on infant and child health and to make matter worst many of the bacterial pathogens associated with this burden are becoming highly resistant to antibiotics. Education, research, activism, and awareness of diarrhea must continue if we hope to reduce the negative impact of the disease.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about working at PATH?
For me, what’s great about PATH is the integrated team approach to solving public health problems. We have expertise in clinical research, formulation, communications, and more, which allow us to take a vaccine from the research bench to communities. Not all organizations have that. For example, PATH’s work to quantify the value proposition of a vaccine looks at the impact of vaccines on economics, accessibility, and more. This work has helped to justify the vaccines I’ve been working to develop.
Traveling to places like Kenya, getting feedback from researchers, hearing their ideas – there’s nothing more fulfilling than working in the place where you’re confident your research will have an impact. The investigators wanted to learn from me, and I wanted to learn from them. Maybe I won’t be the one to develop the next lifesaving vaccine but perhaps I motivated them to do so or transfer the tools they need to succeed.
Also… PATH had really good happy hours!
Q: Do you have any advice for the next generation of global health researchers?
“Chance favors the prepared mind,” so always be receptive to new ideas and techniques. Since finishing my PhD I’ve learned four times as much as I knew then because the field is always changing--pathogens are always changing--so research needs to do the same.
Expect the unexpected – don’t assume anything. You can easily take one step forward then two steps back in vaccine research because things are always changing - pathogens evolve, funding differs, populations respond in different ways to new findings, etc.
Q: Where would you like to see the field of diarrheal disease research go next?
I would like to see more vaccines rolled out globally, along with expanded use of existing vaccines like those available for typhoid and cholera. I am also excited about the immense potential of combination vaccinations to reduce infections, health clinic visits, stunting, and antimicrobial resistance. It will be difficult, but the technology is there, so let’s try, the potential rewards could be great!