An interview with Dr Antonia Sagona

October 2020

Dr Antonia Sagona is an Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick and a member of the Microbiology Society. Her research focuses on identifying the mechanisms via which bacterial pathogens infection cells and which bacteriophages invade human cells. In this interview, she tells us more about why this research is important and why microbiology matters.

Antonia Sagona
© Antonia Sagona

Tell us more about your research.

The issue of antimicrobial resistance is prominent and there is a direct need to find to antibiotics, alternatives in order to tackle bacterial pathogens. One such approach is the use of bacteriophages; viruses that target bacteria with great specificity and with minor side effects to human cells.

In our lab, we are focusing on identifying the mechanisms via which the bacterial pathogens infect human cells, as well as the ways via which bacteriophages invade human cells; target intracellular bacteria and the potential effects of this process to human cells. For this purpose, we use various in vitro human cell models that mimic the diseases caused by different bacterial pathogens and infect those with the bacterial pathogens of interest. We further apply the specific bacteriophages to the host bacteria and we analyse the results with a variety of methods, including confocal and electron microscopy, Fluorescence-activated cells sorting (FACS), microbiology and live/dead cell assays.

Another aspect our lab, is our focus on genetically modifying bacteriophages to make them eligible for a variety of applications. Some of the applications that we are interested in to include in the modification of phages, so that these become safer for human phage therapy; obtain broader host range and become more efficient in killing their host pathogens, become fluorescent. This enables us to understand their interaction with human cells and intracellular bacterial pathogens using microscopy and become detectable to be used as diagnostics.

Why is this research important?

Our research is important in the field of phage therapy, because we try to understand how phages interact with their host pathogens and human cells and our results can help in the gradual establishment of safe phage therapy in humans. Also, our work in the genetic modification of phages is of great importance, because we can use these phages for a variety of applications, including early diagnosis with low cost, which can be lifesaving especially in developing countries.

Why does microbiology matter?

All our work is related to microbiology; using tools from molecular/synthetic biology, cell biology and microscopy, but microbiology matters in our research since it is the basis of scientific results that aim to solve a series of human health-related problems.

If you are a member of the Society and would like to find out more about how you can get involved with Society activities and/or showcase your research, please email us at [email protected].