St. Maarten native making strides in COVID research | THE DAILY HERALD

Dr. Zuwena Richardson


PHILIPSBURG–Daughter of the soil Dr. Zuwena Richardson is making strides as a leading medical scientist in Immunology and Infectious Disease working closely with top professionals in the world.

  Dr. Richardson has been working on the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia with global science-led biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca since May 2021.

  Her role includes working as a medical advisor/liaison. She gathers and studies current up-to-date information from medical experts regarding the current developments on COVID-19, vaccines and treatments. She leads scientific and clinical discussions with healthcare professionals in Australia. Dr. Richardson is currently one of three persons in Australia in this function.

  Although making great strides with the COVID-19 vaccine, she explained that she originally started her medical research on the HIV virus. The transition from HIV research to COVID-19 research and now the COVID-19 vaccine pretty much began during the onset of the pandemic. As COVID-19 spread worldwide it quickly became the top priority in terms of research.

  Dr. Richardson sat in an interview with The Daily Herald where she shared a little about her journey from a Milton Peters College (MPC) student to one of the leading immunologists and virologists in COVID-19 research in Australia.

  She said her love for science began with a high school internship at the age of 14. She worked at a pharmacy and the experience of preparing medication and making ointments sparked her first interest in laboratory medicine. From there, no one could convince her otherwise than to further pursue this field. She did her own research and in 2004 she was off to the Netherlands to pursue her dreams.

  “I just knew this is what I wanted to do, medical science,” she said.

  While studying in the Netherlands, she opted to complete part of her internship for her Master’s programme in an English-speaking country. This eventually led her to Australia where she completed her internship in cancer research at Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Centre at Austin Hospital.

  She left a profound impression during this time and was asked to remain and work for the institution. Along with this, they were willing to apply for a scholarship that would in turn allow her to complete her PhD studies in cancer/immunology research at the prestigious University of Melbourne in Australia.

  After graduating with her Master’s degree and waiting for this scholarship to come through she returned to St. Maarten advice from her father. While back on the island she worked briefly at St. Maarten AIDS Foundation. This was the beginning of her interest in HIV/AIDS research.

  Dr. Richardson explained that during this time she was able to interview and work with persons affected by HIV/AIDS and experience first-hand the stigma and discrimination these persons endured. What stood out to her were the enquiries about research and developments thus far towards finding a cure for this virus.

  By the time she left St. Maarten to start her PhD studies in Australia, she was keen on focusing more on HIV research. One month into her studies she informed the medical director of her decision to switch from cancer research to HIV research.

  Dr. Richardson explained that this was quite a nerve-wracking time for her, but deep down she knew that she wanted to take a different path. “I felt like I was more passionate about people living with HIV on treatment, seeing that it was a problem here on the island, and globally,” she said.

  Dr. Richardson defended her PhD in HIV/AIDS immunology in May 2020. During her studies she had been fortunate to work under the supervision of the top researcher and medical director of Peter Doherty Institute in Australia, Sharon Lewin.

  Dr. Richardson’s research on HIV helped make her transition into to COVID-19 research happen. She developed a method during her doctoral study which was fairly new in the field. This method proved to be useful to study COVID-19 effects within a body’s tissues.

  Soon afterward she was asked by AstraZeneca to be the lead scientist covering Australian states Melbourne and Tasmania.

  She also received an honorary clinical fellowship position from University of Melbourne. She is now known as the leading expert in the method she developed that is used to also study COVID-19.

  Dr. Richardson admits that in her new role, although not within her original plan, she has become quite content with her work. She went from being a lab scientist and carrying out hands-on research to now following and discussing “the science” behind the research. However, she notes that HIV still remains a field of passion for her and she further emphasised the importance of HIV research and still hopes to someday return to that field.

  Dr. Richardson said her dream is to return to St. Maarten one day, but for now she in on a journey of learning, expanding her knowledge and acquiring additional skills that may be beneficial in her field of work.

  “St. Maarten is on my mind, but I want to get the right skills before I return back home,” she said. “I want when I return that I can utilise my skills to significantly contribute to my island.”

Source: The Daily Herald