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Annemarie Meijer new training coordinator in European network

The new project INFLANET will train young scientists in Europe to become experts in inflammation research. Professor Annemarie Meijer from the Institute of Biology Leiden coordinates the training.

Why should researchers be trained in inflammation? Annemarie Meijer, professor of Immunobiology at the Institute of Biology Leiden, explains: ‘About five to seven per cent of the population in Western countries is affected by inflammatory diseases. Think of chronic lung diseases or intestinal inflammation, but inflammation also play a major role in COVID-19, for example. Knowledge of the immune system and inflammatory responses in the body is desperately needed.’ An inflammatory response, or inflammation, is a natural and protective response of the immune system to injury or infection. However, excessive or chronic inflammatory reactions can do a lot of damage to tissues. Meijer: ‘The INFLANET project is about better understanding the factors that determine what happens in inflamed tissues. Ultimately, the project should lead to the development of new anti-inflammatory drugs.’

Fight tuberculosis

Fifteen PhD students will be trained as experts in the field of inflammation. They receive multidisciplinary training in the form of courses and working visits to experts in areas from structural biology and immunology, to genetics, microscopy and clinical application. One of the fifteen PhD students will be appointed at the Institute of Biology Leiden, within the Meijer group. There, they study tuberculosis in zebrafish models. Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that is associated with inflammation. Meijer explains: ‘In close collaboration with VENI postdoc Monica Varela, the PhD candidate will focus on the interaction between inflammation and the immunity’s cleanup system [see frame]. We hope to find out if we can suppress the damaging inflammatory response in tuberculosis and limit the infection by stimulating that cleanup system.’

Annemarie Meijer talks about her experiences in EU projects on a conference in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Young and enthusiastic

The European INFLANET project starts in the first months of 2021. INFLANET is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie project in which 21 universities, research institutes and companies participate from Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain and the UK. In total, 4 million euros is available for the project.

It is not the first time that Meijer has a coordinating role in a European training network. After the projects FishForPharma and ImageInLife, which respectively focused on working with zebrafish as a model for improving drug development and advanced microscopy, Meijer is happy to start with INFLANET: 'I hope that also in this network a tight group of young, enthusiastic researchers will emerge.'

In autophagy, the body's cleanup system, the immune system rids itself of microbial invaders and damaged parts of its body cells. It may be a promising target in the fight against tuberculosis, which kills more than 1.5 million people worldwide and an estimated 10 million people fall ill with each year. Read more about Meijer's research into autophagy.

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