Oriol Mitjà, ISGlobal researcher, has received support from the European Research Council (ERC) to find alternative treatments for syphilis. The starting grant is designed to support promising early career scientists that are starting their own research team, and is a highly competitive process: of the more than 3,000 proposals presented this year, only 13% were funded.
Mitjà already has a solid track in the field of infectious diseases. As a young medical doctor newly arrived to Lihir Island, in Papua New Guinea, he became interested in yaws, a tropical disease that causes skin ulcers and bone deformations in children. He and his team found that one single dose of oral azithromycin was effective in curing yaws, a breakthrough that set the basis for WHO’s new strategy to eradicate the disease. His subsequent research has provided valuable information that will help establish the optimal strategy for its eradication.
In his new project, Mitjà will tackle a disease caused by a bacterium closely related to that of yaws but whose prevalence is certainly not restricted to remote areas of the planet: syphilis. The last decade has seen an unprecedented rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STD), including syphilis, worldwide. In 2017 alone, Barcelona reported over 1000 syphilis cases. Although an effective treatment for the disease exists (injected penicillin), “there is a need to identify antibiotics that are equally effective but easier to administer, in order to increase adhesion to treatment and reduce transmission rates,” says Mitjà. “The new treatment would be exportable to any context affected by a rise in the disease, and would therefore have a global impact,” he adds. The five-year project will be carried out at the University Hospital Germans Trias i Pujol.