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Stritch Magazine 2020

A good steward

A student’s personal loss fuels his mission to improve the system

For a decade, Travis Nielsen watched his mother battle cancer. But after countless hospital visits and treatments, it wasn’t the cancer that took her life. Instead, she passed away due to an antibiotic-resistant infection in her lungs.   

According to the Center for Disease Control’s 2019 Antibiotic Resistant Threats Report, more than 2.8 million antibiotic resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a resultFor Nielsen, a second-year MD/MPH student at Stritch and the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health, the loss of his mom led to a newfound fascination with antibiotics and drug-resistant infections. “There’s no way of avoiding antibiotic resistance entirely, but properly managing our use of the drugs is one way to slow down the spread of resistance,” he says.  

In 2018, Nielsen earned a PhD in medical biology from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Shortly after, he collaborated with infectious disease experts to publish articles in top medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine and the Annals of Internal Medicine. The studies take a stark view of the development of antibiotics in the United States and offer radical changes to government regulation of production and distribution.     

One of the ideas presented is the implementation of a federal board made up of clinical experts, patient advocates, and industry representatives to oversee and incentivize the development of antibiotics through targeted funding.   

 
 

18%

fewer deaths from antibiotic resistance overall since 2013

28%

fewer deaths from antibiotic resistance in hospitals since 2013

2.8M+

antibiotic-resistant infections each year

"Antimicrobial stewardship isn’t just the responsibility of the Infectious Diseases Division. To be effective, everyone plays a role, including patients."
- Fritzie Albarillo

Nielsen’s interests in drug development and public health inspired him to apply to medical school with the thought of getting a separate master’s degree in public health policy down the road. When he heard about Loyola’s dual-degree program in medicine and public health, he couldn’t help but think it was meant for him. “I felt that as a doctor I could save a few lives,” he says. “But if I also work in public health, I could help shape policy and health systems, potentially saving many more.”   

Now in his second year of the program, Nielsen is collaborating with Loyola researchers to improve antimicrobial stewardship practices in outpatient clinics. Coincidentally, the phrase “antimicrobial stewardship” was coined by a former Loyola professor, Dale Gerding, and refers to the appropriate use of antibiotics in clinical settings.  

During Nielsen’s first year at Loyola, his passion for studying antibiotics caught the attention of Fritzie Albarillo, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Stritch. The two are now collaborating on a project to increase awareness and improve antibiotic stewardship in Loyola Medicine’s outpatient clinics. Last year, the research team distributed a survey to several outpatient settings to gather a baseline of provider knowledge and an understanding of how patients perceive antibiotics. Based on that data, the team’s next steps are to share the findings, educate health care professionals on prescription guidelines, and empower them to inform patients about the proper use of antibiotics.  

"Antimicrobial stewardship isn’t just the responsibility of the Infectious Diseases Division. To be effective, everyone plays a role, including patients,” Albarillo says.

In addition to teaching at Stritch, Albarillo leads Loyola Medicine’s Antimicrobial Stewardship program, an interdisciplinary initiative that monitors and promotes the appropriate use of antibiotics in clinical settings. In 2019, Loyola Medicine became one of only 78 health care institutions in the country to receive the Antimicrobial Stewardship Center of Excellence designation from the Infectious Disease Society of America, which recognizes hospitals across the country with the highest quality stewardship programs. With Nielsen’s help, Albarillo believes Loyola can continue to be a leader in antimicrobial stewardship.   

“I think Travis is going to be an excellent advocate for antimicrobial stewardship,” says Albarillo. "I’m hoping he even may develop a biomarker for infection or something to replace antibiotics. I think he will make big contributions to science, not just infection prevention.” 

Stritch Magazine 2020

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