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Personal Story

“Researching S. aureus Has a Personal Aspect to Me”

Jelle Vlaeminck, University of Antwerp
“Researching S. aureus Has a Personal Aspect to Me”

Being able to conduct research on S. aureus has a personal aspect to me. More than ten years ago, my grandfather was struck by an implant infection with methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA; the multidrug-resistant variant) and barely survived after a long period of isolation. When I was offered the opportunity to work on MRSA, I didn’t have to think twice.

Research on S. aureus

Jelle Vlaeminck is a fourth year PhD student in the Laboratory of Medical Microbiology (LMM) at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Institute, University of Antwerp, Belgium. After obtaining his Master’s degree in biochemistry from Ghent University, Belgium, he started in the laboratory led by Herman Goossens and Surbhi Malhotra-Kumar where his current research centers around several aspects of Staphylococcus aureus infections.

“During my PhD I have been able to gain lots of insights in this clinically very relevant pathogen, using some of the most modern Next Generation Sequencing technologies.”

“Already during my undergraduate education, I was very interested in medical and research orienting aspects. For my Master’s thesis I applied to work in a small biotech company where I performed production optimization of HIV proteins for diagnostic tools. This only encouraged me to continue in medical research. Therefore, after graduating, I searched for a PhD position in the medical field and when I fell upon the vacancy at LMM, it immediately caught my eye. Originally, my research focused on biofilm and persister formation in S. aureus, mainly using transcriptomic analyses.”

— Jelle Vlaeminck

Work in COMBACTE

“The Laboratory of Medical Microbiology is one of the central laboratories in COMBACTE-NET’s ASPIRE-ICU and ASPIRE-SSI trials where we perform the microbiological and whole-genome-sequencing tasks. Due to my focus on S. aureus, I was introduced in the S. aureus arms while a fellow PhD student took on the Pseudomonas aeruginosa part. In both trials, we attempt to understand why certain hospitalized patients are more at risk of developing ventilator-associate pneumonia and post-operative surgical site infections respectively. In ASPIRE-ICU, we already showed that colonization with S. aureus at ICU admission is a risk factor (Paling F.P., et al., 2020, 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.12741).”

More detailed studies are being conducted at the moment while the ASPIRE-SSI clinical manuscript is being written. In regards to ASPIRE-ICU, in collaboration with several COMBACTE-NET partners, a review on targeting S. aureus virulence factors in vaccine research was published last year as well (Vlaeminck J., et al., 2020, doi.org/10.3390/toxins12110721).

PhD and COVID-19

As with many labs and researchers, the Laboratory of Medical Microbiology and Jelle’s research were also hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, to Jelle this was an opportunity to use his skills to help society, which has always been his ultimate goal. During the first wave in Spring 2019, he assisted the Antwerp University Hospital with SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics while continuing most of his PhD research from home. Currently he is finalizing analyses and writing the relevant publications while he prepares for his PhD defence set for the end of the year.

“Hopefully I’m able to have a physical PhD defense to share that moment with my colleagues and family. After that, I hope to find a job in a medical related field where I can continue helping people. That’s what I want to spend the rest of my professional life on.”