Who are you, what do you do and how long have you worked at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine?
I am Annamari Heikinheimo. I work at the Department of Food Hygiene and Environmental Health as an Academy of Finland postdoctoral researcher. When my postdoctoral position concludes in the autumn, I will return to my university lecturer duties.
I came to the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Small Animal Clinic on Hämeentie 57 as a young upper secondary school leaver in 1991 to work as an animal caretaker. I studied for the entrance examination while working. After I began studies, I continued to work as a caretaker on the weekends and holidays until becoming a professional veterinarian. After graduation I started work as an assistant at the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene, in 1999. I worked at the department as a teacher while writing my doctoral dissertation on the epidemiology of Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that causes food poisoning. Even though nowadays my workplace is in Viikki and its name has changed to the Department of Food Hygiene and Environmental Health, many of my workmates are the same as when I began. I have therefore been a member of the Faculty for something over 20 years.
What subjects came up during your work in 2014?
I conduct research into antimicrobial-resistant (microbial medicine resistant) bacteria. During my postdoctoral research my investigations have focused on enterobacteria that produce broad-spectrum Beta-lactamase and carbapenemase. The effect of the use of antimicrobials on the incidence of resistant bacteria is a broader area of my interest. The origin and spread of resistance poses a health risk to animals and, as it propagates through food and the environment, to humans as well.
Antimicrobial resistance is a phenomenon known around the world, and its effects are increasingly being felt in Finland, too. Bacterial resistance can develop rapidly, outpacing the development of new medicines. The World Health Organisation has named this one of the most serious risk-factors for the future health of humans and animals.
There is no easy way to a global solution for the problem of antimicrobial resistance. All are unanimous, however, that a solution will not be found in a single sector or country. What is needed is a global, multidisciplinary approach. As researchers, we can also participate in the discussions in society and tell about the measures that can be taken to prevent increases in antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.
What is best about your work?
I feel I am in the vocation I had a calling for. Since my dissertation, I have been able to make my own career path as an independent investigator and do so together with capable colleagues.
The best thing about my work is the sense of both producing and being at the cusp of new knowledge. I enjoy working with research colleagues and students and also supervising dissertations.
What are your plans for 2015?
In 2015 I intend to continue my ongoing research and launch new studies related to my research theme. In the autumn I will return to my teaching duties, where I hope to be able to put to use the in-depth knowledge acquired during my postdoc. In addition to research and teaching, I will be involved this year in certain anniversary events at the University of Helsinki, both as a participant and as an event organiser.