Understanding host/pathogen relationships so that infectious agents can be tackled more effectively
We study the two aspects of interactions between pathogens and their hosts. Firstly, we focus on the way the host’s immune responses develop to cope with and eliminate an infection. Secondly, we are interested in the strategies developed by pathogens to protect themselves from immune responses. Historically, Sciensano has been very interested in the responses directed against the Koch bacillus, also known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the agent of tuberculosis. This knowledge is important to better understand how a vaccine can effectively fight a pathogen that is infecting an organism.
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We work with international networks to analyze the vaccine potential of new antigens and the effectiveness of new vaccine methodologies in different experimental models. Thus, we were behind the identification of several antigens that protect against tuberculosis. The vaccines analyzed by our teams are either subunit vaccines (the antigens are then used in the form of proteins or encoded by nucleic acids) or live-attenuated vaccines.
Our work also includes the characterization of various components of pathogenic bacteria or other organisms that are responsible for the development of inflammatory phenomena, and which could be used as adjuvants for new vaccines. Adjuvants are substances that do not cause any harmful effect but make it possible to increase the strength of the immune responses generated during vaccination.
We are also interested in the characterization of the immune response triggered by viruses or allergic responses.