MEMBER NEWS: RIP project by Prof. Dr. Eric Cox and Prof. Dr. Bert Devriendt

The Industrial Research Fund (IOF) has recently approved funding for the pioneering project “RIP – Receptors Imitators to Prevent Infections with Enteric Pathogens,” led by esteemed researchers Prof. Dr. Eric Cox and Prof. Dr. Bert Devriendt. This groundbreaking project seeks to explore novel methods to prevent infections caused by gut pathogens in both humans and animals by imitating the receptors these pathogens bind to.

A recurrent theme in the interaction between hosts and pathogens at the intestinal surface is the binding of many gut pathogens or their toxins to receptors that carry blood group antigens located in the apical membrane of gut epithelial cells. In previous research, Prof. Dr. Cox and Prof. Dr. Devriendt demonstrated that a molecule mimicking these receptors successfully prevents the binding of F18-fimbriated Escherichia coli to the gut epithelium in piglets, thereby protecting these animals from infection.

The RIP project aims to extend this groundbreaking discovery by investigating whether this receptor-mimicking molecule can also prevent the binding of other gut pathogens that utilize blood group antigens as receptors to interact with the gut epithelium. This research holds significant promise for enhancing the health and wellbeing of both pigs and humans by reducing the incidence of gut infections.

The RIP project promises to deliver valuable insights into the mechanisms of hostpathogen interactions at the intestinal surface and could pave the way for novel prophylactic treatments that protect against infections caused by a variety of gut pathogens.

The immunology team is excited to embark on this innovative project that has the potential to transform the approach to preventing gut infections and develop new strategies to protect against a wide range of enteric pathogens.

Prof. dr. Eric Cox is currently co-chair of the department of Translational Physiology, Infectiology and Public Health and Senior Full Professor at the Laboratory of Immunology at Ghent University. He is also promotor of PROVAXS, a consortium of Labs of Ghent university focusing on valorisation of innovations in animal health. His main research subjects are the intestinal mucosal immune system in animals, the interaction of enterotoxigenic and Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli with the mucosa, the mode of action of ß-1,3-1,6-glucans in pigs, the immunomodulating effect of lactoferrins in ruminants and pigs, food allergy in the dog and oral immunization strategies.

Prof. dr. Bert Devriendt is the leading professor of the immunology research group at ghent University, which focuses on unraveling the interactions of pathogens with the gut immune system in livestock and companion animals. Of particular interest is the crosstalk between pathogens and the gut epithelium. The insights resulting from this research are used to inform the development of oral vaccines and immune modulating molecules to improve gut health.