With excellence as its yardstick, ITM aims at progressing the science of tropical medicine and international health to support relevant societal, medical and knowledge evolutions in the global South and at home. Research leads the way in the Institute’s academic triad of research, education and clinical service provision. In 2017 our researchers delivered exciting results in focalised scientific projects in the laboratory, in the field and with patients.
PhD research projects supported
Flemish support for outbreak research
2017 brought advances across the board for ITM research. Our researchers were recognised with accolades and research grants, they diligently continued their academic research publishing 286 papers in key journals throughout the year, they taught our 615 multicultural pupils on internationally relevant topics and supported 107 PhD students along their way with 19 defending doctoral theses.
Along with this day-to-day commitment to excellence they founded, participated in and pushed forward key projects such as: the formation of an integrated outbreak research team; the multidisciplinary fight against antimicrobial resistance and the leading of an international consortium in the fight to eliminate sleeping sickness.
Outbreak research teams – leading a defined collaborative approach to epidemics
As an institute dealing with tropical illness, ITM has always responded to acute outbreaks of new or known pathogens. This has been shown in the recent cholera outbreak in the DRC as well as the Zika and Ebola outbreaks of past years. In a highly interconnected world it is vital that the Institute continues to develop its outbreak research capacity.
Our interdisciplinary outbreak researchers will enhance the understanding of what drives transmission and spread of outbreak-prone diseases, design and evaluate methods and models for the early detection of outbreaks, as well as develop outbreak prevention and control intervention strategies.
Through the generous help of the Flemish Ministry of Economy, Sciences and Innovation (EWI) ITM is concentrating on this vital area of research receiving €850,000 per year over the next three years making us, and the world, better equipped in the face of epidemics.
Tackling antimicrobial resistance with the Bacterial Infections in the Tropics project
Antimicrobial resistance is an acute global health threat that is compromising the way we treat bacterial infections and many other aspects of modern medicine. ITM is helping to understand and solve its root causes in the South via its Bacterial Infections in the Tropics (BIT) project. The five-year project, which is supported by the Baillet Latour Fund through the funding of three research chairs, started in 2015.
Three interconnected ITM teams are now at work on research projects on bacterial bloodstream infections in the tropics. In 2017 the researchers reported about worrying levels of antibiotic resistance in Salmonella bacteria in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Other output in 2017 included high-ranking publications, diagnostic and clinical improvements and strong international network building.
Eliminating sleeping sickness in Africa – ITM leads the way
Thanks to progress in the areas of diagnosis, treatment, digitalisation and control of the tsetse fly that transmits sleeping sickness in Africa, it is now possible to give this disease the deathblow. Because of ITM’s scientific expertise, Belgium is internationally regarded as a pioneer in the fight against the disease.
ITM will coordinate the international support and elimination efforts of its Congolese partner organisations.
In the fight against sleeping sickness
ITM’s scientific expertise makes Belgium internationally
regarded as a pioneer in the fight against the disease.
Who won what, from whom in 2017?
Recognising scientific research excellence in 2017
Who? Lynn Meurs – Medical Helminthology and Raquel Inocencio Da Luz – Epidemiology and Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases
What? Seal of Excellence for Horizon 2020 Proposals
From Whom? Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions
Who? Koen Peeters – Medical Anthropology
What? Medal for People’s Health
From Whom? Vietnamese Ministry of Health
Who? Johan van Griensven – HIV and Neglected Tropical Diseases
What? Dubois-Brigué Award and Scholarship for proposal “Clinical research in hard to reach contexts: from leishmaniasis in HIV patients to Ebola”
From Whom? The Doctor Albert Dubois Foundation
Who? Séverine Thys – Epidemiology and Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases
What? Dubois-Brigué Award and Scholarship for completing PhD work on “Perception of neglected zoonotic diseases among livestock owners in the tropics: The added value of Anthropology to the One Health approach for integrated control”
From Whom? The Doctor Albert Dubois Foundation
Who? Koen Vandelannoote – Mycobacteriology
What? Laureate diploma for his study “Unveiling the evolutionary history & molecular epidemiology of Mycobacterium ulcerans”
From Whom? Koninklijke Academie voor Overzeese Wetenschappen (Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences)
Who? Janneke Cox, ITM Alumna and former ITM staff member
What? ‘Prijs van de Academie voor klinisch wetenschappelijk onderzoek in de geneeskunde 2017’ (Prize from the Academy for clinical scientific research in Medicine 2017) for her doctorate “HIV and Mortality: Autopsy Studies from Uganda”
From Whom? Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine
ITM researchers published 286 papers in 2017. Here some highlights
Unique Antwerp data set uncovers the mystery of neglected disease
A parasitic disease, Leishmaniasis affects two million people a year in nearly 100 countries, resulting in around 50,000 deaths. The Leishmania parasite is smart – it adapts to humans and the few medicines available to combat it. Little was known about how the parasite gains resistance, until experts at ITM and the Wellcome Sanger Institute developed a unique data set with genome analyses of patient samples, which resulted in a range of scientific publications, including a paper on how the parasite goes into hibernation.
→ JARA M, BERG M, CALJON G, DE MUYLDER G, CUYPERS B, CASTILLO D, MAES I, OROZCO MDC, VANAERSCHOT M, DUJARDIN JC, AREVALO J. MACROMOLECULAR BIOSYNTHETIC PARAMETERS AND METABOLIC PROFILE IN DIFFERENT LIFE STAGES OF LEISHMANIA BRAZILIENSIS: AMASTIGOTES AS A FUNCTIONALLY LESS ACTIVE STAGE. PLOS ONE 2017; 12(7): E0180532.
Super-resistant Salmonella Typhi causes concern
Typhoid fever – caused by Salmonella Typhi – is a major health threat in low-income countries. Antibiotics are key for treatment and over the past decades, rising antibiotic resistance has limited treatment availability. ITM researchers and colleagues at partner organisation INRB isolated a super drug resistant Salmonella Typhi strain in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They say, should the drug resistant strain spread, it could have a deadly impact.
→ PHOBA MF, BARBE B, LUNGUYA O, MASENDU L, LULENGWA D, DOUGAN G, WONG VK, BERTRAND S, CEYSSENS PJ, JACOBS J, VAN PUYVELDE S, DEBORGGRAEVE S. SALMONELLA ENTERICA SEROVAR TYPHO PRODUCING CTX-M-15 EXTENDED SPECTRUM BETA-LACTAMASE IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO. CLINICAL INFECTIOUS DISEASES 2017 OCT 1; 65(7): 1229-1231.
Maternal and child health post-Ebola
The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa cost more than 11.000 lives. In a retrospective study on women and children at public health facilities for antenatal care, child birth, and immunisation services, PhD student Alexandre Delamou and colleagues saw a strong negative trend in service use during the outbreak that was not yet re-established after outbreak end in 2016. The same trend was observed for most vaccinations. The researchers say targeted interventions are needed to get maternal and child health services back on track.
→ Delamou A, Ayadi AM, Sidibe S, Delvaux T, Camara BS, Sandouno SD, Beavogui AH, Rutherford GW, Okumura J, Zhang WH, De Brouwere V. Effect of Ebola virus disease on maternal and child health services in Guinea: a retrospective observational cohort study. Lancet Glob Health 2017 Apr;5(4): e448-e457.