ORLANDO, Fla. — Venezuela holds a special place in Dr. José Alexander’s heart. It was there that he spent his childhood, making memories and enjoying the best food with his family, including his aunt Cruz. It’s also where he earned his medical degree at the Central University of Venezuela, an important milestone on his path to becoming a microbiologist.
Alexander, who serves as medical director of the microbiology and virology department for AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division — South Region, moved to the United States in 2010 and joined AdventHealth in 2016.
At AdventHealth, Alexander and his team researched and developed a new test for brain-eating amoeba that produces results within three hours. “The groundbreaking brain-eating amoeba test has changed the landscape for rapid and appropriate treatment for this severe and usually deadly infection,” said Alexander.
The free-living parasite Naegleria fowleri, also known as brain-eating amoeba, is a growing health concern across the U.S. It kills more than 97% of people infected due to delays in identifying and treating the illness.
For the past year, physicians at AdventHealth have been able to receive results in a few hours, rapidly ruling out the presence of the amoeba in patient samples. In addition, physicians in other states can get results in roughly 24 hours from specimens sent to the Orlando campus.
“In the last couple of months, we have tested sample transportation temperatures to determine sample stability,” said Alexander. “This research has led to findings that now allows spinal fluid samples to be shipped from any hospital across the U.S. at room temperature, simplifying the transportation process, extending the viable testing window, and ultimately accelerating diagnosis to potentially save lives.”
A leading innovator in the field, Alexander and his team at AdventHealth Orlando are currently leading an effort to implement next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology in order to identify mycobacteria (such as TB) infections more quickly and accurately, allowing for more precise treatments to begin much sooner.
In his spare time, Alexander enjoys traveling, playing bass and photography. In celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, he said it’s essential to be a role model for the next generation and lead by example.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is knowing that every discovery or new clinical advancement we make can improve people's lives,” he said. “I hope to inspire the next generation of scientists and I’m excited for what’s to come.”
Alexander is committed to sharing his knowledge and discoveries with colleagues here in the United States, in his native Venezuela and in other South American countries.
“As a Venezuelan, I believe that one of the most important aspects of our culture is our capacity to maintain a positive attitude by helping each other, whether through food, stories, or music, even when times are hard.”