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TB/NTM Research Cluster

Mycobacterial diseases constitute a major burden to global public health, with the best known ones including tuberculosis (TB), leprosy and Buruli Ulcer. Tuberculosis was only recently surpassed by the COVID-19 pandemic as the infectious disease with the highest global death toll. In Belgium, around 1000 patients are diagnosed with tuberculosis each year. Proportionally, we struggle more with non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTMs), affecting patients with underlying diseases who experience frequent relapse. In 2020, 66% of mycobacterial isolates sent to the National Reference Center were NTMs. The clinical significance of all these isolates however, remains hard to determine.
Belgium has made an illustrious contribution to control of mycobacterial diseases in past and present.
Father Damien, who served leprosy patients all his life, is among the best known Belgians, and patron of the Damien Foundation, aiding leprosy and tuberculosis patients in many countries. Bedaquiline, the first new drug against tuberculosis in 40 years, was discovered by the team around Koen Andries at Janssen
Pharmaceuticals, Beerse. Also, BCCM/ITM hosts the largest public repository of mycobacterial cultures, accessible to the global TB research community.
Bringing together scientists and clinicians with an interest in TB the Mycobacterial unit at ITM has been organizing ‘TB Cluster’ meetings over the past decade, typically on the third Thursday of the month and mostly at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM), Antwerp. The doors are open to anyone with relevant interests and expertise. With topics from laboratory-based science and diagnostics, to treatment, transmission, and evolutionary studies, these meetings served at times around specific themes, at times as a forum for road-testing of proposals, feedback on manuscripts, and as platform where students could practice their pitches before conferences.
In the future, however, we do not want to leave it at a meeting but aim at more time to exchange results, skills and background knowledge in a scientifically divers team under the umbrella of research on
mycobacterial diseases. With the formal recognition from FWO we will also unite TB research and NTM research into the Scientific Research Network ‘TB/NTM Research Cluster’. NTMs have been the focus of fewer ‘TB clusters’, but we perceive both interest and the need to learn from each other.
The scientific targets that we aim to achieve are multiple: (1) to advance our knowledge of NTM-associated diseases by translation of our collective extensive findings on TB to NTM-associated diseases (2) to understand and contribute to the quickly developing landscape of -omics data for understanding e.g. bacterial transmission and drug resistance; (3) to rigorously discuss preliminary findings and observations on a continuous basis (4) to teach and learn innovative skills within the network or via exchange with external laboratories (5) to translate results from bedside to bench and vice versa (6) to inform health policies and
co-author guidelines.
This Scientific Research Network will join and strengthen the collaboration between internationally recognized scientific experts from Belgium, The Netherlands and the UK that perform qualitative outstanding research on TB or NTM with complementary research topics. Junior research groups participate
as well as established research units, clinicians as well as basic scientists.
Some partners already collaborate on (FWO funded) projects, such as the DeepMTB study, the Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) to streamline TB diagnosis pragmatic trial, the SputSeq thinktank to improve sequencing directly from clinical specimen and on shared supervision of PhD students.
Exploiting our various backgrounds, we are eager to think game-changing hypotheses and shape joint research proposals that will receive international funding due to their revolutionary nature. Planned networking activities will also function as a scientific stepping stone for the promotion of next generation
mycobacterial researchers.
Date:1 Jan 2022 →  Today
Project type:Collaboration project