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UMCG to head large-scale research into reducing the threat from infectious diseases

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20 April 2016

The UMCG is to coordinate a new research programme designed to reduce the threat from infectious diseases. Researchers will study ways of protecting people at a higher risk of contracting an infectious disease due to illness, for example, or because they are given drugs that affect their immune system. A total of € 5 million has been pledged by the European Marie Curie Fund, the UMCG and the University of Groningen.

The number of people under threat from infectious diseases is rising rapidly. As more people grow older, use medicines or become ill, they also become more susceptible to infections. In the light of growing resistance to antibiotics, it has become vital to find new ways preventing, diagnosing and treating infection. Researchers from nine different departments will work together on this research. Specialist in internal medicine/infectious diseases Ymkje Stienstra from the UMCG is the coordinator. She will head this international project, which is called Pronkjewail (dialect for crown jewel), along with Jan Maarten van Dijl, Alex Friedrich and Rosie Jordanova from the department of Microbiology. The UMCG will appoint 16 international PhD candidates to work on the project, which will last five years. They will study topics including vaccination and prevention, improving the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, and the effects of treatments on the microbiome, all the micro-organisms in the human digestive system.


Pronkjewail set to boost research into infectious diseases

How can we protect people who are particularly susceptible to infectious diseases? Researchers from the UMCG and sixteen international PhD students are to carry out research into this problem. The European Marie Curie Fund, the UMCG, the University of Groningen and the departments concerned are jointly investing € 5 million in this research project. 

Many of the patients being treated at the UMCG have an increased risk of contracting an infectious disease, for example because they are seriously ill or because they are given drugs that affect their immune system. ‘Transplant surgery, oncology (cancer) and emergency care are priority areas at the UMCG. The patients admitted to these departments are particularly susceptible to infection,’ explains specialist in internal medicine and infectious diseases at the UMCG Ymkje Stienstra. ‘To make things worse, many bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, making it increasingly difficult to treat infectious diseases. We desperately need new alternatives to help prevent and treat infections.’

Pronkjewail

Researchers working on the research programme Microbes in Health and Disease (MHD) from the UMCG will now join sixteen international PhD candidates on a project aimed at investigating infectious diseases. The project is called Pronkjewail, which is Groningen dialect for crown jewel. The researchers will study topics such as vaccination and prevention, improving diagnostics and treatment options, and the effects of treatment on the microbiome, all the micro-organisms in the digestive system.
‘The programme is a combination of fundamental and applied research’, says project coordinator Stienstra. ‘We are conducting research on patients as well as studying how certain bacteria react to each other. One of the projects, for example, is about marking antibodies injected into patients to trace infections at an early stage. Another project focuses on the effect of our water quality on the microbiome. What sort of metals and antibiotics are present in our water and how have they altered the human microbiome?’

Boost

The researchers working on the MHD research programme specialize in very different disciplines (see text box). The PhD candidates soon to be recruited will also come from a range of backgrounds so that research topics can be examined from every possible angle.
‘The PhD candidates learn to consult each other and switch between fundamental and applied research subjects’, explains Stienstra. ‘The training programme does not only cover infections, but also subjects like communication between different cultures. And we want them to gain international experience and an understanding of how the business sector works. Pronkjewail is intended as a boost to the research into infectious diseases. As well as interesting results, we will also gain people who are qualified in the field of infectious diseases and prepared for a career as researchers in a university or industry.’​

​The Pronkjewail project will be officially launched in September. Coordinator Ymkje Stienstra will head the project together with microbiologists Jan Maarten van Dijl, Alex Friedrich and Rosie Jordonova. The researchers appointed to supervise the PhD candidates work in the departments of medical microbiology, internal medicine, lung diseases and tuberculosis, intensive care, clinical pharmacy and pharmacology, paediatrics, surgery, cell biology and pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics.