Pathogens offer a unique and broad field of investigations and applications. On one hand, pathogens represent ‘targets’; we aim to control pathogens and need specific applications like diagnostics, surveillance tools, drug and vaccines and tools to implement vector control. On the other hand, several of these pathogens represent fascinating models for the basic study of unique biological adaptations, like host-pathogen interactions, antigenic variation or resistance to drugs and other stress factors.
A stable host-parasite relationship is the result of thousands of years of co-evolution, and infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera, the plague and tuberculosis, have exerted great evolutionary pressure on humans. Parasites have no benefit from killing their hosts per se and co-evolution favours a stable relationship in which both host and parasite survive. Epidemic disease among humans often occurs when a pathogen enters a new population, or crosses over into a human population from a non-human reservoir (zoonoses), and it may take many generations to achieve a stable host-parasite relationship.
Human population pressures, mobility, and environmental changes have increased dramatically over the past 50 years and as a result we are confronted with novel and newly emerging infectious diseases, such as SARS, every year. Infectious and tropical diseases are simply not limited to developing and/or tropical countries anymore. The Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp has more than 100 years of experience conducting research on the biomedical, clinical and public health aspects of tropical infectious diseases. Nowadays, ITM is a major worldwide actor involved at the interface between basic and translational research.
To promote the multidisciplinary research of vaccines and infectious diseases, the University of Antwerp established The Vaccine & Infectious Disease Institute (VAXINFECTIO) as a formal Centre of Excellence which is recognized as WHO Collaborating Centre for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases. VAXINFECTIO is aimed at integrated vaccine and microbiological research with a focus on increasing the understanding of the immune response in prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines (including tumour vaccines) and on the containment of antibiotic resistance.
Through its unique collaboration with the Institute of Tropical Medicine, the University of Antwerp is able to offer a state-of-the art course on tropical and infectious diseases integrating the most recent advances in fields like parasitology, ecology, immunology, and molecular epidemiology, taught by professionals with many years of field expertise. Altogether, this course will provide a unique broad view of infectious and tropical diseases, from the gene to the ecosystem.