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Protecting patients with enhanced susceptibility to infections

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PRONKJEWAIL (Protecting patients with enhanced susceptibility to infections)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2021-08-31

The Microbes in Health and Disease research programme at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) proposed the Doctoral Training Programme PRONKJEWAIL (‘a real gem’) in the field of hospital care and infection. The specific training objective is ‘protecting patients with enhanced susceptibility to infections’. PRONKJEWAIL recruited 16 international PhD students, who were trained in research, transferable skills, and network and capacity building. They were guided by experienced supervisors from the departments of Medical Microbiology, Internal Medicine, Intensive Care, Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Paediatrics, Surgery, Cell Biology, and Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at the UMCG. 26 partner organisations, including 14 private sector partners, were committed to support ESR training via mentoring, courses and secondments. Research training built on four Pillars: 1) vaccines and primary prevention; 2) personalized detection and infection prevention; 3) iatrogenic influence on the microbiome and 4) personalized therapy/stewardship. Each Pillar integrated fundamental, translational and clinical/epidemiological training projects. The high exposure to fundamental, translational and clinical research in academia and industry increased the PhD students’ problem-solving capabilities. Further, PhD students learned to value mobility through internships at international partner organizations. The scientific results obtained by the PhD students have impact on hospital care and contribute to enhanced public health. By providing excellent training, PRONKJEWAIL developed new talent within the next generation of medical researchers thereby strengthening the European Research Area.

Conclusions

The Doctoral Training Programme PRONKJEWAIL has achieved the goals proposed. The focus on educating the next generation of European researchers has involved formal training, teamwork within the project through joint scientific projects between ESRs, and performing research in international teams generating 89 scientific articles written so far with organisations and companies across Europe and the world, offering ESRs the skills, knowledge, and networks in order to advance their careers and to continue contributing to the field of infectious diseases. The emphasis on patients with susceptibility to infections has become more relevant with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and Pronkjewail ESRs have seamlessly pivoted their work and training to reflect the new reality. The attention given during the project for cultural and work integration, quality of life, and work-life balance, whilst challenging ESRs to achieve excellence in their preferred academic field resulted in a successful project, with ESRs reporting satisfaction with their environment and all choosing to continue a career in research.
Pronkjewail described its uniqueness as the triple ‘ Capital I’: International mobility, inter-sectoral exposure and Interdisciplinarity. The research progress can be described accordingly.

Pronkjewail ESRs have participated in a reported 121 international conferences, have published 89 articles with several additional articles still in pre-print or “submitted” stages, have obtained several awards (including an ECCMID Young Researcher Grant), and have been involved in their local and international research communities by being elected to several boards (eg. secretary of the Union “TB and Migration Group”). Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, most secondments took place, with ESRs either performing them when travel was possible, or online, and they contributed to ESRs continuing a career in research. Nine joint projects were performed within Pronkjewail by teams of ESRs transferring skills and writing academic projects. Within the tailor-made training programme within Pronkjewail, ESRs underwent a Summer School for Antimicrobial Resistance, and courses on Intercultural Communication, Serious Gaming, Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis, Data visualisation, and Media training. Furthermore, Pronkjewail ESRs participated in the organisation of the Symposium for Biology Students in Europe, hosted by Groningen PhDs in 2020, organised a monthly journal club, and disseminated their results locally through a newsletter, and internationally through conferences, press releases and social media presence.

16 ESRs were appointed at the UMCG, 13 female and 3 male. The gender distribution of researchers and other workforce involved in the first two years of the Pronkjewail project consists of 25 females and 18 males. In September 2017, a digital survey for the ESRs in the Pronkjewail project was conducted by an independent person to identify factors threatening the balance in work and family life. The discussions revealed no gender issues, nevertheless the attention for sexual harassment, for work life balance in general and their opinion about the training is very highly appreciated by the ESRs. Further, yearly appraisals focused on work-life balance and on challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and revealed that ESRs were coping well with the situation, by shifting research opportunities and reporting no burnout or major challenges within their research and life.

Pronkjewail ESRs have performed several relevant projects within the area of infectious diseases, especially involving vulnerable patients, and at each step of medical management. They have investigated new diagnosis tools for viral and bacterial infections, especially next generation sequencing and fluorescent probes, with a focus on the hospital environment and on potential and actual outbreaks. Concerning treatment, several projects have offered recommendations concerning drug delivery, optimised dosing, personalised medicine, antimicrobial stewardships. ESRs have performed diverse research, from fundamental to clinical, from laboratory based, to data science, to clinical trials.
The Pronkjewail Project’s relevance increased as the medical and research communities gained insight into the potential impact of outbreaks. ESRs participated not only in a better understanding of several infectious diseases and their agents, but also contributed to internationally driven guidelines and statements concerning their respective fields such as “COVID-19 and Tuberculosis in Migrants - Why we need to focus on both” and “From Therapeutic Drug Monitoring to Model-Informed Precision Dosing for Antibiotics”. The focus on fundamental research has produced results which contribute to better influenza vaccine design, streamline metagenomics in animals and humans in order to better diagnose and prevent bacterial and viral outbreaks, better characterise several opportunistic iatrogenic bacteria, and design diagnosis probes aiding clinicians in diagnosing and treating infections. Clinically, ESRs have contributed to a better characterisation of infections in vulnerable populations such as migrants, have used data science to aid clinicians take informed decisions regarding antibiotic administration, and have discovered several important methods through which digital health and personalised medicine technologies could enhance disease management and patient quality of life.

By participating in international research teams and constantly training throughout the project, Pronkjewail ESRs have become young research professionals in their respective fields.
Project Overview
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