Combating antibiotic resistance together
Antibiotic resistance is a common problem among patients. The European Project TIPAT trains pharmacologists, microbiologists and immunologists of six universities in interdisciplinary thinking. The ultimate goal is to develop better treatment guidelines to combat resistance. Coen van Hasselt of the LACDR coordinates the project. 'By bringing all these researchers with different backgrounds together, very different questions are asked.'
Fifteen PhD students and their supervisors from six European universities are working together to better understand and prevent antibiotic resistance. Each from their own expertise, they work on personalising antibiotic treatments. 'This requires a good understanding of the interaction between bacteria, patients and drugs.'
Van Hasselt emphasises the importance of these different researchers working together. 'Microbiology looks at what the bacteria do and how they react to the antibiotics, among other things. Immunology is about how the immune system reacts to an infection and how you can monitor that in a patient with biomarkers. And pharmacology is about the behaviour of the drug itself and how it is distributed inside the body.'
Personalised antibiotics and better treatment guidelines
By combining these three disciplines, the PhD students get a very different kind of training programme. 'In TIPAT we now train young researchers who have knowledge of microbiology, immunology and pharmacology. This allows us to ask a completely different set of questions in this project. That helps to make faster progress and actually develop better treatments.'
It's not only about preventing resistance, but also about treating resistant infections that nowadays still kill patients too often. Van Hasselt explains that it is important to find the right dosage for each patient. 'At the moment, patients are often prescribed a general antibiotic dose. There are no guidelines yet for personalised doses.'
You need to understand the interaction between bacteria, patient and medicine
Internships in different environments
Part of the project is also that the PhD students do internships in three different environments: an industrial internship at a company, at an academic partner of TIPAT and in a hospital environment. 'This gives them a better understanding of how things work in the patient's environment or in a company that develops medicines.'
Visiting all over
The group of PhD students and supervisors meet frequently in online meetings. The research groups present their progress and organise online training courses. Twice a year, a summer or winter school is organised. 'Due to corona, the previous two were online, but in the spring, all PhD students come to Leiden for the first time, and in the summer we go to Sweden with the whole group.'
But it is not always just about antibiotics. A meeting about entrepreneurship is also planned. 'When you want to bring a discovery made in the lab to the hospital, it often means starting a business. These are things that a PhD student does not normally learn during their studies.'
For the researchers, it is an international network to which they may be able to refer for life
A network for the future
The idea is to keep the training courses going after the project. 'We hope that it will be a basis for something permanent.' In any case, the researchers will have an international network they can fall back on for the rest of their lives. 'I like the fact that they get to know each other so well. Not only do they work together, but they also form a real network. They can benefit from this afterwards. That makes this project really unique.'
Participating universities: Leiden University (The Netherlands), Uppsala University (Sweden), Paul Ehrlich Institute (Germany), Jena University Hospital (Germany), University of Bologna (Italy), Medical University of Vienna (Austria)
TIPAT stands for Training towards Innovative Personalized Antibiotic Therapy. The project came about thanks to a grant from Innovative Training Networks subsidy (ITN). These are international networks for training beginning researchers. Within ITN, researchers may determine the subject themselves. The network stimulates innovative training that cannot be followed at existing institutes.
Also watch the video about TIPAT
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Text and photos: Inge van Dijck