“I want to save lives by raising awareness of antimicrobial resistance”

Everyone should know about the dangers related to antimicrobial resistance, says Jesse Vänttinen. He found the passion for the subject through his studies at the University of Helsinki – and now gets to research it for a living.

Jesse Vänttinen was nervous. What had started as a class project was becoming something much bigger. On a Friday night in November 2016, Vänttinen and his classmates were organising an event with the aim of spreading information about antimicrobial resistance – the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication that once could treat it.

The event turned out to be a success. The evening consisted of a keynote lecture and a panel discussion with leading experts of the subject. About a hundred people attended to hear the experts speak, and many told afterwards that they had gotten useful information about antimicrobial resistance in an easily understandable way.

“The success of the event felt so good that we had to celebrate it. I felt I was doing something concrete to battle antimicrobial resistance crisis.”

Three years later, Vänttinen and the team have organised four yearly Antibiotic Resistance Nights. Vänttinen is also working in a research group studying antimicrobial resistance – alongside his studies in the Master’s Programme in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology.

For Vänttinen, studying microbiology was initially a plan B. How did it turn into a passion?

A life-changing course

When Vänttinen started his studies at the University of Helsinki, he had already applied to study medicine four times in vain. Microbiology seemed like a decent second option.

It didn’t take long before his mind was blown by his new major.

“I quickly understood that microbiology affects everything on this earth: from nature’s nutrient cycle to human’s digestive track, for instance. The broadness of the field still sometimes makes me dizzy.”

In the third year of his studies, Vänttinen had a course that changed his life. In his minor subject Biotechnology, the students had to come up with entrepreneurship ideas related to biological sciences.

The teacher suggested that Vänttinen’s group should organise an actual event to raise awareness of their chosen topic, antimicrobial resistance.

“That course was really useful because we had to learn how to present our ideas in a way that everyone understands them. After the first Antibiotic Resistance Night, I started feeling that I have found my thing.”

Raising awareness – with support from the University

Why is it important for people to know about antimicrobial resistance? Because the situation is so severe, says Vänttinen. According to a recent report, drug-resistant diseases could cause 10 million deaths annually by 2050. World Health Organization classifies antimicrobial resistance as an increasingly serious threat to global public health.

“Like climate change, antimicrobial resistance affects everything. As preventing infections is crucial in battling against the crisis, we need to educate people about the importance of vaccinations and handwashing, for example.”

For a year, Vänttinen has been a part of One Health Finland Ry, an organisation promoting the well-being of people, animals and the environment. Antibiotic Resistance Nights now operate under the organisation.

Vänttinen’s team has gotten support from the University in organising their events. Many of the experts speaking at the Antibiotic Resistance Nights have been researchers from the University, and for the past two years, the event has taken place at Think Corner. It’s a modern space provided by the University for presenting science in the heart of Helsinki.

“My studies have developed my working life and research skills”

Three years after starting at the University, Vänttinen landed his dream job through his studies. He started as a research trainee in a research group with the game-changing teacher of the entrepreneurship class.

After the internship, Vänttinen has continued in the project as a research assistant. He gives the University credit for being flexible. He’s been able to work full-time, study – and importantly, also have some free time. The opportunity to take exams in electronical exam rooms at times suitable for Vänttinen has been particularly useful.

 “Because of the flexibility, my studies are on schedule and at the same time I’ve been able to develop my working life and research skills in my job.”

“The University has provided me with great opportunities to progress on my career path”

Vänttinen is currently writing his Master’s thesis on how fast bacteria transfer mobile DNA from one bacterium to another, a topic also related to antimicrobial resistance, as antimicrobial resistance genes typically reside in mobile genetic elements.” He’s planning on graduating within a few months.

What’s next? Vänttinen doesn’t really want to think about that because he’s happy with how things are now. He will be working in the research project at least for one more year.

After that, the future is open. This doesn’t worry Vänttinen.

“I’d like to continue doing with what I already do: teaching, researching, laboratory work and so on. The University has already provided me with great opportunities to progress on my career path. I hope I can dive even deeper into researching antimicrobial resistance in the future and be part of solving the problem.”