Pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and viruses are posing major threats to human health and wellbeing. Many of these microbes are particularly dangerous for very young, frail older, immunocompromised, and critically ill individuals, as well as patients with specific physiological or dermatological disorders.

However, healthy individuals are also at risk, which is most clearly demonstrated in the less affluent regions of our planet where infectious diseases are still a major cause of morbidity and mortality.

On the other hand, certain species of the human microbiota have potent health-promoting properties or barrier functions in the prevention of infections caused by pathogenic microbes. This demonstrates a clear need for fundamental, translational, and clinical application-oriented research on the variety of beneficial and detrimental roles of microbes in human health and disease (MHD).

SyStems Biology approaches 

Since the dynamic behaviour of biological systems is sustained by complex networks of interactions between their individual components, the MHD researchers use SyStems Biology approaches to integrate the results of interdisciplinary studies on microbes at molecular, cellular, organism, and community levels by using theory-based and mathematical modelling.

Because pathogenic microbes do not respect national borders, the MHD programme is embedded in extensive cross-border and international collaborations.

Relevance

Fighting untreatable microbial infections and conditions

Europe and other developed regions have ageing societies that are increasingly susceptible to bacterial, fungal, and viral infectious diseases. At the same time, antibiotic resistance, accelerated by insufficient antibiotic stewardship and drug abuse in veterinary practice, is developing rapidly and catching up with previously effective measures to prevent or fight infections.

Untreatable microbial infections and conditions, like those occurring in the pre-antibiotic era, are rapidly emerging and will have a major impact on healthy ageing in the foreseeable future:

  • In developed countries, untreatable infections pose an increasing threat to very young, frail older, immunocompromised, and critically ill individuals.
  • In less privileged regions of the world, the burden of infectious diseases is much higher because untreatable infections, including multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and viral epidemics, pose serious threats to healthy individuals as well.

The MHD programme brings together expertise in drug research that is necessary for preventing infections, fighting infections, and protecting the potentially beneficial effects of microbes.