A life’s work recognised

In a sea of young, smiling graduates taking selfies in their academic dress stood Dr David Hansman (PhD ’24) preparing to cross the stage. Collecting his PhD was a tangible nod to a culmination of decades’ work focused on improving outcomes for others. A stalwart of microbiology in South Australia, Dr Hansman has never stopped learning – completing his thesis on ‘Antimicrobial Drug Resistance in Sreptococcus pneumoniae’ in his nineties.

Recognising the development of drug resistance was important clinically because of the high prevalence of pneumococcal pneumonia in low- and middle-income countries. At the time when Dr Hansman began his research, in the 1960s, the fatality rate of invasive pneumococcal infections was high in both children and adults. However, several highly effective antibiotics were available for the treatment of pneumococcal and streptococcal infections and antibiotic resistance was unknown.

Working with several colleagues in Sydney, resistance of pneumococci to tetracycline was demonstrated for the first time and, several years later, relative resistance to penicillin. Penicillin and tetracycline were the drugs principally used in the treatment of pneumococcal pneumonia.

Flinders University’s Department of Microbiology was among the institutes which provided isolates (samples) of pneumococci from children and adults for Dr Hansman’s studies, which continued after his appointment in 1970 as Director of the Microbiology Department at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital, later the Women’s and Children’s Hospital (WCH). Findings included the first demonstration of pneumococci resistant to two or more antibiotics, including erythromycin and chloramphenicol, in Australia.

Retiring from the WCH in 1998, Dr Hansman has endeavoured to keep abreast of medical developments in his field of medical microbiology and infectious disease. His studies in the 1960s and 1970s had had therapeutic implications in both Westernised and low- to middle-income countries. Reports of drug resistance in pneumococcus in major regions led to the testing of pneumococci from serious infections to antibiotics used in their treatment and helped to encourage patients with the development of pneumococcal vaccines.

“Working with my supervisors, Professor David Gordon and Dr Santhosh Daniel, was an enjoyable experience and I looked forward to my regular and frequent visits to Flinders Medical Centre to discuss the preparation of my thesis,” said Dr Hansman.

“It was also pleasurable to find that the Medical Library at Flinders was a traditional, as well as a ‘computerised’ library, with both medical books and bound volumes of medical journals, with ‘runs’ often going back several decades, or longer.

“This was invaluable because I required many articles from more than 50 years ago. Where periodicals were not available, a series of medical librarians provided courteous and efficient help, often printing the articles which I sought.

“South Australia has an invaluable asset in Flinders’ Medical Library, which is especially important now that other libraries in Adelaide have been depleted of books and printed journals!”

The detection of antimicrobial resistance to penicillin and other antibiotics has had major implications for the management of serious pneumococcal infections which remain an important cause of human disease in the 21st century.

Not resting on his laurels, Dr Hansman now plans to continue efforts to preserve/restore our natural environment, here in South Australia and further afield.

When asked what motivates him to keep learning, he suggests that, “learning is a lifelong process!”

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College of Medicine and Public Health Health Medicine

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