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New Leibniz research centre in Jena: Photonics for the fight against resistant pathogens

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding a new Leibniz Research Centre in Jena. Technology developers, physicians and medical technology manufacturers will bring light-based technologies for better diagnostics and therapy of infections from the idea to the application in the clinic. The Leibniz Centre for Photonics in Infection Research (LPI) was successful in the BMBF's national roadmap process. The Ministry thus certifies that the research infrastructure, which is unique in Europe, contributes to solving socially relevant issues. 150 million were applied for establishing the LPI.

Infectious diseases are among the most frequent causes of death worldwide and also represent a growing threat in industrialised countries. As more and more pathogens develop resistances to available antibiotics, diseases that can be easily treated today could again pose a deadly threat in the near future. In view of the current situation, rapid diagnostic procedures and new therapies for the fight against infections must be researched. Photonic technologies - i.e. methods and processes that use light as a tool - can solve these pressing problems in the long term. Light-based methods measure quickly, sensitively, contactlessly and contribute to a better understanding of how microbes make us ill, how our bodies defend themselves and how these processes can be influenced.

However, it takes a long time for the progress of this research to reach the patient. "On average, it takes 14 years for an idea to become a marketable product," says Prof. Jürgen Popp, scientific director of the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena, which plays a key role in the new Centre for Infection Research. "Many concepts cannot be realized because resources and development structures are not available or not open to the public".

More quickly from Bench to Bedside

With the new research center, this will change. "Thanks to the extensive and sustained funding of the LPI by the federal government, we can close these gaps," predicts Jürgen Popp, who is also spokesman of the board of the Jena research campus InfectoGnostics. "In this way, we contribute to the rapid transfer of solutions into diagnostic devices and therapeutic approaches: so that they get more quickly from bench to bedside. Such a research infrastructure plays a key role "for the efficiency, innovative strength and international competitiveness of Germany as a science and business location," emphasizes Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek. Outstanding basic research is the prerequisite "for new knowledge, technological breakthroughs and thus also for our future prosperity".

The new research centre is the result of an urgent medical need, explains Prof. Dr. Michael Bauer, Director of the Clinic for Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine at Jena University Hospital and spokesperson for the Integrated Research and Treatment Centre for Sepsis Control and Care. "Physicians need faster and more accurate diagnostic methods in order to be able to treat sepsis more quickly and in a more targeted way. In the case of serious infectious diseases, one thing counts above all: time. "Although existing standard diagnostic methods provide reliable results, physicians often have to wait too long to find out which bacteria triggers an infection and which drugs work against it. Fast information for a targeted use of antibiotics can help to free us from the plight of resistance".

Innovative diagnostic methods as a way out of the resistance crisis

The Leibniz Centre for Photonics in Infection Research (LPI), to be established in 2019, has set itself the goal of researching and developing new methods for the diagnosis and therapy of infections. To this end, it bundles the expertise available in Jena in the fields of optics and photonics as well as infection research. This approach is "unique and excellently suited for the early diagnosis of infectious diseases and the timely identification of suitable therapeutic responses - especially for multi-resistant pathogens," judges the German Science Council, Germany's most important science policy advisory body.

In the future, natural scientists, technology developers, physicians and medical technology manufacturers will work closely together in the centre, which will be open for all users. Existing cooperations between Leibniz IPHT, Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute (Leibniz HKI), the Jena University hospital and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena will be intensified under one roof. Thanks to short distances and clear transfer points, LPI users will be able to implement unconventional ideas more quickly than before.

"We need to intensify research in order to develop and validate novel therapeutic solutions and experimental therapy approaches," emphasises Prof. Dr. Axel Brakhage, Scientific Director of the Leibniz-HKI, adding: "This includes treatment with new combinations of existing active substances, the use of nanoparticles as active substance carriers, immune cell-based therapies and novel therapies that prevent or at least delay the development of resistance on the part of microorganisms.

The new research centre will be open to top national and international researchers and industrial users. This will lead to new diagnostic approaches and targeted therapeutic methods that will be transferred directly into application and industrial production. By focusing on questions of clinical validation and certification from the outset, the LPI can close the gaps in the implementation of research results that still exist in Germany and drastically shorten the time to market.

Chance to implement unconventional ideas

With photonic technologies for clinical application and the translational research approach, the LPI could "revolutionize pathogen diagnostics worldwide," according to the Council of Science and Humanities. This also benefits the Jena location, which can count on the settlement of highly qualified scientists and new companies. "In this way, the visibility and attractiveness of the research location is considerably increased both nationally and internationally, especially for young scientists," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Walter Rosenthal, President of the Friedrich Schiller University.

The Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology, the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology - Hans Knöll Institute, the Jena University hospital and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena applied for the major project under the patronage of the Leibniz Association. The research project will be carried out in three phases in a new building on the grounds of the University Hospital. A preparatory phase will be followed by a four-year implementation phase. In the subsequent operating phase, the center will be available to users for research work. The aim is to ensure continuity.