Outbreak Research Team
Understanding epidemic-prone diseases
The Institute of Tropical Medicine has a rich history of being involved in outbreak investigation, research and response. This stretches from our historic and continued involvement in outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg to more recent work related to cholera and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The Outbreak Research Team (ORT) of ITM enhances understanding of what drives the transmission and spread of outbreak-prone diseases, designs and evaluates methods and models for early detection, and assesses different outbreak prevention and control intervention strategies. Working primarily in low-resource settings, the ORT has a mission to ‘strengthen the evidence base for improved outbreak preparedness, response, recovery and resilience through interdisciplinary applied research’. They pursue this with funding from the Flemish Department of Economy, Science and Innovation (EWI) which contributed €3 million over a five-year period (2020-2024).
ITM's Outbreak Research Team is always on standby to do research interventions during outbreaks in the world.
ORT members and governance
Our Outbreak Research Team comprises seven members, all disposing of profound expertise and experience. They are supported by ITM's director, Dr Marc-Alain Widdowson, who takes up the scientific guidance and coordination of ORT research activities.
Eugene Bangwen (MSc) has a professional background in infectious disease diagnostics and laboratory capacity building in resource-limited settings. He has worked for several NGOs in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mostly within HIV and AIDS programmes. Prior to joining ITM, he was Laboratory Manager for Médecins Sans Frontières Belgium, supporting the implementation of advanced HIV diagnostic packages and laboratory capacity building in DRC.
Isabel Brosius (MD, MMed) is an internal medicine and infectious diseases specialist within ITM's Unit of Tropical Diseases. As a clinician, she has experience in HIV, tropical diseases and travel medicine. She was involved in research on the development of novel schistosomiasis treatment and diagnostics, operational bacteriology in Ebola and diagnostics and clinical decision for COVID-19, before joining ITM's Outbreak Research Team to focus on emerging infectious diseases, particularly zoonoses.
Soledad Colombe (DVM, MPH, PhD) is an infectious disease epidemiologist with a veterinary background. She has worked as an epidemiologist researcher in the field of international health, with a strong interest in One Health. Prior to joining ITM, she completed the European Programme on Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET) at the Public Health Agency of Sweden.
Laurens Liesenborghs (MD, PhD, MMed) is a medical doctor, specialised in internal medicine and interested in emerging infectious diseases. He worked on a Lassa fever project for Médecins Sans Frontières and has research experience in translational bacteriology and virology. Prior to joining ITM, he worked as a researcher at the Rega Institute for Medical Research of KU Leuven on the development of treatments and vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, while conducting clinical trials with hospitalised patients with COVID-19.
Marie Meudec (MAs, PhD) is an anthropologist who studied in France and Canada. Prior to joining ITM, she worked as an expert for law firms (UK and Canada) and as a researcher on various topics, such as spiritual and healing practices, everyday ethics, stigma and resistance, health inequalities, racial profiling, among others. She conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Haiti, Saint-Lucia and Canada. She taught at Université Laval, the University of Toronto and the State University of Haiti.
Philippe Selhorst (MSc, PhD) is a medical virologist with an interest in infectious diseases and molecular epidemiology. He has broad experience in viral culture, next-generation sequencing technologies and antiviral drug discovery. He successfully led research projects in South Africa, focusing on HIV transmission, drug resistance and microbicides.
Wim Van Bortel
Wim Van Bortel (MSc, PhD) is a medical entomologist with over 25 years of experience in the research of vectors and vector-borne diseases. His research focuses on disentangling the role of arthropod vectors in transmission systems, in order to improve prevention and control of vector-borne diseases. His studies are primarily done in Africa, Southeast Asia and Belgium.
In addition to our core ORT members, additional ITM staff may serve as a resource pool to reinforce research activities during an outbreak.
Dr Marc-Alain Widdowson
Dr Marc-Alain Widdowson graduated in Biological Anthropology and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge and completed a MSc in Communicable Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is a seasoned infectious disease epidemiologist and has managed scientific projects throughout the world, with field experience in Bolivia, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands. He has broad expertise in epidemiology, public health, laboratory science and One Health. The past 18 years, Widdowson has worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US.
Bacteria have found various ways to develop resistance (AMR), of which resistance to antibiotics is a problem reaching across many different domains.
Tireless effort is crucial to eliminate human African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, in the world. For more than a century, ITM has been playing its part.
Arboviruses such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika are urgent public health threats in tropical and subtropical areas.
By combining efforts on biological, human and societal aspects of the disease, ITM hopes to control and ultimately eliminate malaria in the long term.
Neglected (tropical) diseases are high on the agenda. For many years, ITM has been actively involved in research on NTDs, in particular on leishmaniasis, leprosy and sleeping sickness.
Before vaccines or drugs can be used in the general population, their safety and effectiveness are thoroughly investigated in clinical trials.
The research of ITM on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS is of inestimable value.
For more than 10 years, ITM has been actively monitoring exotic mosquitoes in Belgium.
ITM is closely monitoring the development of the mpox disease, both in Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
We help improve sexual and reproductive health in the world by combining scientific research, advanced education, policy support and capacity-strengthening initiatives.
ITM’s research on tuberculosis (TB) is world-renowned. Its shorter combination treatment for resistant tuberculosis was a worldwide breakthrough. Our researchers study new diagnostics and case detection techniques, with the largest public collection of TB strains in the world at their disposal.
EcoHealth is an interdepartmental group that unites researchers from different backgrounds and disciplines. We all recognise the need for comprehensive, systemic approaches to address current health challenges that emerge at the interface between humans, animals and their broader natural, social and political environments.
Since the beginning, ITM has been providing medical services to people returning ill from overseas. As such, ITM accumulated profound knowledge of tropical diseases, as well as STIs and HIV.
The right to health implies that everybody, everywhere should have access to the needed essential health products, included but not limited to diagnostics, vaccines and medicines.
Clinical, epidemiological and diagnostics studies, secondary analyses of health data and BioSamples, behavioural studies or any other studies that involve the participation of human individuals, should yield social value and be scientifically justified and ethically sound.
ITM has decades of experience fighting infectious diseases and curbing epidemics. We are fully committed to helping stop the COVID-19 pandemic that is threatening the world. To this end, we work together with partners at home and abroad.
Ebola is a deadly disease that was co-discovered in 1976 by researchers of the institute. ITM has been closely monitoring subsequent outbreaks on the African continent, as well as contributing to new developments in diagnostics and treatment.