Research

Neglected Diseases

Neglected Diseases

Applying advanced modeling and cutting-edge imaging approaches to understand co-infections and co-morbidity with other diseases

Neglected diseases in the Global South harbour unfettered pandemic potential, which is increasing through major changes in climate and accelerated movement of goods and people. Basic research into pathogen variance and biology allows to narrow down and specifically characterize infectious diseases that have the potential to cause pandemics. 

Co-infections/co-morbidities are the brutal reality for many if not most people in the Global South, but are also present in the developed world as non-communicable, chronic diseases. At disease level they may lower thresholds for rapid spread of pandemic pathogens, which can pose a major threat for health initiatives worldwide. Although the exact mechanisms are not completely understood yet, it is thought that co-infections promote the rapid spread of pandemic pathogens. Importantly, coinfections/ co-morbidities cannot be understood solely using reductionist approaches. In line with the One-Health-Initiative of the University of Bern we therefore suggest to tackle co-infections/co-morbidities with modeling approaches at different levels. 

• The Cellular level 

Host cell cellular responses against invading pathogens (e.g. parasite and virus in the same cell competing for host cell resources). This includes host cell autophagy and is backed up by a strong autophagy community in Bern, including an EU COST action. Collaborations with cluster 1 and 4 on parasite – viral co-infections are envisaged.  

• The Organismal level 

Modulation of immune responses in humans and animals. It is well known that the gut microbiome modulates immune responses and Bern is a world-leading center in this direction (cluster 1). This modulation may have profound effects on the outcome of infections and will be investigated together with cluster 1. Concrete project plans involve therefore the infection of animals with defined gut microbiome with both intracellular and extracellular parasites. Another level of immunosuppression is through medication against other non-infectious diseases which results in higher susceptibility.  

• The Big Data level 

Genomic information of hosts and pathogens is now available. Modeling can now also be employed to identify drug targets and to design combination therapies (more than 2 modalities akin to HIV). Concrete plans are to model metabolic pathways of host and pathogens to identify drug targets and to use recently developed modeling tools to optimize combination treatments against pathogens and other diseases. Modelling will also be employed at both the microscopic (pathogen-host cell interaction) and at the macroscopic (organismal and population) level. 

• The Socio-economic level 

COVID-19 lockdown effects on health systems in Africa and threats to malaria and HIV surveillance in combination with COVID-19’s likely status as a neglected diseases. To have a strong connection to the Global South in terms of support for emerging disease surveillance and to improve living conditions for the local population, we will promote collaborations with cluster 6 (Sonja Vogt) on Global South initiatives and with cluster 3 on STIs and their ongoing projects in the Global South. We will also promote research on the impact of outbreaks of human/veterinary diseases (Theileria, Cryptosporidium, others) on child labor/education in resource-constrained regions. 

• The Public Health level 

Expanding the WHO term of neglected diseases to include “neglected” populations in Switzerland, meaning populations that are more vulnerable to infections. Young children and seniors often react differently to infections compared to the majority of the population. To consider this aspect is in line with the One Health initiative of UniBE.

For enquiries please contact Rebecca Limenitakis (rebecca.limenitakis@unibe.ch).

Cluster Chair and Co-Chair

Cluster Members