A new collaborative research centre is being launched in Würzburg. It investigates critical decision processes that determine the outcome of human infection.
Resistance to antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics is an increasing problem. Although new active substances are identified and developed, it seems that humanity may soon lose the arms race against pathogens.
“The strategy of only attacking pathogens directly will not be sufficient in the long run,” says Professor Thomas Rudel, Chair of Microbiology at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany.
What needs to be changed: The interactions between pathogens and the human tissue and immune system must be better analysed, says Rudel. So far hardly investigated on a broad scale, but of great importance here are certain key decisions that determine the clinical course of an infection. This is, for example, the question of whether an active infection develops after contact with a pathogen or whether a localised infection turns into a systemic disease. Also of importance is the question of whether pathogens that actively multiply move into a stage of persistence or chronification.
Many different pathogens under investigation
It is precisely these key decisions that the new Würzburg Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) “Decisions in Infectious Diseases” (DECIDE) will investigate. A unique feature of this approach: The CRC does not focus on a single pathogen, but combines research on several bacteria, viruses and fungi that frequently cause human infections.
“The diversity of important pathogens investigated in Würzburg is almost unique – that was an important prerequisite for our success,” says SFB spokesperson Thomas Rudel. The German Research Foundation announced the establishment of the CRC on 25 November 2022; it will fund the initiative with 13 million euros over the next four years. The official start of the SFB is January 2023.
Funds will also be used to fund personnel; among other things, the SFB provides numerous new positions for doctoral students and postdocs. “We are very pleased that this will also allow us to involve many young talents in cutting-edge research,” says Thomas Rudel.
Leaders in infection biology and immunology
DECIDE brings together 26 research teams. 19 of them are from JMU, three from Würzburg University Hospital and one each from the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) in Würzburg, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig, the Technical University of Berlin and the University of Münster.
All principle investigators are leaders in infection biology and immunology. JMU and the University Hospital have decades of expertise in both fields. In recent years, this profile establishment of HIRI and the Max Planck Research Groups for Systems Immunology on the Würzburg Medical Campus has further strengthened the infection research hub in Würzburg.