EU supports research into the diagnostics and therapy of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in biofilms

Chemist Alexander Titz receives ERC starting grant

27.09.2016

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© DZIFAlexander Titz, head of the "Chemical Biology of Carbohydrates" junior research group of the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS).

The European Research Council (ERC) awarded Dr Alexander Titz, who is the head of the "Chemical Biology of Carbohydrates" junior research group of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) and of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), an ERC Starting Grand worth approximately €1.5 million for his research. His group is housed at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) in Saarbrücken, which is a site shared by the HZI and Saarland University. The ERC grant will support the next five years of research in the scope of the SWEETBULLETS project aimed at the diagnostics and therapy of persistent biofilm-forming pathogens, which often elicit hospital-acquired infections. The results are to be the basis of a novel therapeutic approach to biofilm-forming pathogens and the related chronic infections.

ERC grants are the most prestigious European science awards. Dr Alexander Titz is one of 325 scientists from all fields of science throughout Europe to receive this sought-after support. Each year, only two to three researchers from Germany can secure an ERC Starting Grant in the category, "Infection and Immune response". This support allows Titz and his team to address their exciting scientific issues in the upcoming five years.

At the core of the SWEETBULLETS ERC project is the question of how persistent pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which often live in biofilms well protected from antibiotics and cause many hospital-acquired infections, can be identified and subjected to therapy even more rapidly. In addition, the majority of these pathogens are also resistant to antibiotics on a genetic level. The new research project aims to further improve the diagnostics for pathogens in these biofilms. The application of non-invasive and pathogen-specific imaging methods, which currently are not yet available in clinics, might improve the selection of suitable therapies for patients and increase the efficiency of the treatment. "In addition, we aim to research how the proper antibiotics, which frequently are also toxic to the patient, can be delivered specifically to the site of infection in order to kill the pathogen," says Titz.

Short curriculum vitae
Alexander Titz was a student of chemistry at the Technische Universität Darmstadt and at the University of Bordeaux I and completed his master's thesis at Novartis Pharma AG. Following his doctoral thesis at the University of Basel investigating the medical chemistry of carbohydrate-protein interactions, he worked at the ETH Zurich as a postdoctoral researcher until 2010 and received the Klaus Grohe Award for Medical Chemistry for his research. Alexander Titz then joined the Zukunftskolleg of the University of Konstanz, where he focused on biofilm inhibitors. Since 2013, he has been head of the DZIF research group, "Chemical Biology of Carbohydrates", at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland, a site shared by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research and Saarland University (UdS) in Saarbrücken. Alexander Titz is a lecturer in the Scientific-Technical Faculty III of the UdS: chemistry, pharmacy, bio- and materials sciences.

Facts about ERC grants
ERC grants are the most prestigious European science awards. They are highly remunerated and allow the awardees to address extensive projects. The Research Council has awarded these grants since 2008 in various categories ranging from Starting Grants to Consolidator Grants and Advanced Grants. The ERC Starting Grant is awarded each year by the European Research Council to outstanding junior researchers from all fields of science (erc.europa.eu/funding-and-grants/funding-schemes/starting-grants). The scientific excellence of the research applications is the main criterion for the award of an ERC grant.

Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research
Scientists of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) investigate the mechanisms and control of infections. What is it that makes bacteria or viruses pathogenic? The answer to this question is expected to be key to the development of new medications and vaccines. www.helmholtz-hzi.de

Saarland University
Saarland University is renowned internationally for its research in Computer Science and the Nano and Life Sciences. In the life sciences alone, i.e. mainly medicine, pharmacy and biology as well as other natural sciences, more than 600 scientists work at the University's campus in Saarbrücken. The close relationships to France and the focus on Europe are further trademarks. www.uni-saarland.de

The Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) in Saarbrücken is a branch of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and was established by the HZI and Saarland University in 2009. Its researchers are searching mainly for new agents against infectious diseases, optimise these agents for application in humans and research ways how these agents can be transported best through the body to the site of action. For more information, please visit: www.helmholtz-hzi.de/hips

At the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), approx. 500 scientists from 35 institutions collaboratively develop new approaches for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. Their focus is on so-called translation: Rapid and effective implementation of research results in clinical practice. As such, the DZIF paves the way for the development of new vaccines, diagnostics and medications against infections. For more information, please visit: www.dzif.de/en/

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