New research collaboration between EU and Russia focuses on infectious diseases

A new EU project on the theme of HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis is a door opener for collaboration between researchers from EU countries and Russia. One of the project's initiators is Anders Sönnerborg, Professor of Clinical Virology and Infectious Diseases at KI's Departments of Laboratory Medicine, and Medicine Huddinge. The project Common Actions Against HIV/TBC/HCV Across the Regions of Europe (CARE) will mainly focus on the spread of the infections and resistance to treatment.

Tell us more about the research you'll be doing.

"It's generally about understanding and preventing the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis in Europe and Russia, with emphasizes on counteracting development of multi-resistance to TB and HIV. There's a high rate of treatment-resistant tuberculosis in Russia and we are afraid that a similar scenario may arise also for HIV. We'll compare data from different patient groups in EU and Russia to learn from each other as well as developing methods for the identification of mechanisms of drug resistance. The long-term goal is to describe approaches for optimal treatment in all three areas and also to establish a research infrastructure which allows a continuation of research collaboration between EU and Russia after the project end."

What are your and KI's roles in the project?

"We're in charge of the HIV part and will be studying how the virus spreads and what the different viral strains look like. There's also the issue of resistance when it comes to HIV, too. The virus is constantly mutating and we want to compare the different strains circulating in Europe and Russia. The WHO now recommends a triple therapy in which a new drug, integrase inhibitors, is added. We want to see how any resistance can emerge to this drug and the consequences thereof."

You were one of the project's initiators. What difference might this make further down the line?

"Our project scored maximum points at the reviews of both EU and the Russian Ministry of Science and Education which is promising for the long-term sustainability. The idea is to set up a common infrastructure and contacts and networks for future research. The aim is to establish a research partnership between the EU and Russia for the field that can continue after this initial project phase. The project we're now running is scheduled to last two years, forming a platform for continuing knowledge-exchange and data comparison and I am convinced that KI may play a role."

Can you say more about the background and how the new collaboration is structured?

"Presently Russia can only exceptionally be a partner in EU-sponsored projects. This new innovative call is structured along two parallel processes. The EU and the Russian ministry of science and education are in charge of and finance their respective parts. These parts are combined into one project, so we're mutually dependent on each other in our research. The project also involves researchers from Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine, as well as from EU countries.

Why study these issues now?

"We need to know about how these three infections spread and to avoid resistance problems in the future. Not only do they spread quickly, but more people are travelling more often between countries."

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