Andrew Vaitekenas profile

Andrew Vaitekenas

Andrew graduated from Curtin University in 2019 with first class honours and a high distinction in Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology. He was also twice a member of the Curtin Vice Chancellor’s list. Andrew started a PhD in 2020 at the Wal-yan Respiratory Research Centre on a project entitled “Elucidating and Utilising the Mechanisms Used by Pseudomonas aeruginosa to Develop Resistance to Bacteriophages to Aid Therapeutic Formulation and Application in Cystic Fibrosis” and was successful in receiving scholarship support through a Curtin RTP Scholarship (2020-2023). He has also been awarded a Cystic Fibrosis Australia postgraduate studentship grant (2020-2021), Cystic Fibrosis Western Australia Golf Classic scholarship (2021-2023) and Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases and Wal-Yan Respiratory Centre top up scholarship (2021-2023). During his project Andrew has isolated >250 phages from wastewater. The isolated phages had their host range tested against a large range of _P. aeruginosa _derived from diverse clinical settings, allowing the selection of the top 20 phages with broadest host range. The top 20 phages had the receptor they use determined, stability to different temperatures and pH evaluated and had their genomes characterised bioinformatically. Phages from the top 20 that have the potential for phage therapy have been identified. Four distinct phages were evaluated more closely both functionally by one-step growth curve and morphologically through transmission electron microscopy. Andrew has since gone on to investigate the kinetics of phage resistance development by CF clinical isolates of _P. aeruginosa _after treatment with the four phages at different doses over time. The phage resistant bacteria will be sequenced to determine the genetic causes of resistance. The trade-offs of phage resistance to growth, antibiotic susceptibility, motility, biofilm formation and pigment production will also be investigated. This work will be amongst the first to investigate the evolution of phage resistance by CF clinical isolates and to compare phage resistance evolution by adult- and childhood-derived _P. aeruginosa _isolates. The mechanisms of resistance and trade-offs will then be exploited to strategically formulate phage cocktails capable of suppressing phage resistance to ensure phage therapy remains effective. Formulated cocktails will be used to treat _P. aeruginosa _infections of primary airway epithelial cells to investigate _in vitro _safety and efficacy. This work will be amongst the first to investigate primary airway epithelial cell responses to phages and will aid in the determination of the formulated cocktail’s safety and effectiveness.   Work conducted has resulted in several publications already and he has presented his work at three international, two national, and three state conferences including an oral presentation at the European Cystic Fibrosis Conference (2021) and has been awarded a travel award from the World Microbe Forum (2021).

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