Lab-work in Beirut

By David Kamiab Hesari

A collaborated project between the center for global health in Munich, the Boston University and the American University of Beirut (AUB) explores the question how heavy metals affect carbapenem resistance in people from war regions.
Acinetobacter baumannii (Acba) is an opportunistic, gram negative bacterium, that mainly colonizes wounds and causes hospital acquired infections (HAI). Because of its high prevalence in wound infections from US personnel coming from Iraq it was also nicknamed the „Iraqibacter“. Since then, carbapenem resistant Acba strains have been isolated at high rates in areas with protracted conflicts, especially in the Middle Eastern North Africa (MENA) region. Carbapenemases, efflux pumps and porin loss are the main mechanisms and can often occur simultaneously.
Considering a one health approach, it is important to understand that heavy metal concentrations in the soil are high due to heavy artillery projectiles, bomb shells, bullets and destroyed infrastructure.
To investigate the effect of heavy metals on carbapenem resistance, wildtype Acba strains will be exposed to increasing heavy metal concentrations, with and without meropenem. Afterwards they will be tested on their resistance profile using broth microdilution (BMD) and on their resistance stability. Using realtime PCR (rtPCR) and whole genome sequencing (WGS) the underlying resistance mechanism will be identified.
Furthermore, clinical isolates from conflict zones all over the MENA region, have been sent to the Department of Experimental Pathology, Immunology and Microbiology Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) of the AUB by doctors without borders. To find a clinical link, the results of their  BMDs, rtPCR and WGS will be compared to the results of the induced isolates.


Beirut is a very beautiful and interesting city. Almost all year around the weather is warm and sunny. The city seems to be in constant tension between its own history and modernity, the mix between Mediterranean and oriental influences and its different religious ethnicities. For example, Christians and Muslims mainly live in separated neighborhoods. There are only a few neighborhoods where you can see mosques and churches alike. There are street children (almost all of them are Syrian refugees) who are begging for money and food right next to modern and expensive coffee shops. And only in Beirut you can walk the streets and find 6000 year -old excavations sites right next to newly build skyscrapers and buildings that have been shot to pieces during the civil war.  It is a buzzing city where live takes place on the streets. Bars and street foods often barely have indoor seating, so people stand and sit on the street, enjoy the warm weather and talk. Despite the economic situation Lebanese people are very friendly, happy and enjoy life to the fullest. Most of them speak perfect English, French and Arabic, which makes it easy to get to know them and experience their hospitality.