A major goal of STIPnet is to discover potential host factors that are associated with susceptibility or protection from infection. Moreover, we are planning to investigate whether there are biomarkers that can predict treatment success and disease outcome. In this regards, we will focus on three major research approaches: (a) analysis of the microbiome in association with infection and potential protection (b) systemic and localized inflammation and immune activation as well as (c) host genetics associated with protection or susceptibility to infection.

Microbiome Research
Emerging data demonstrate that the microbiome can have a profound impact on the course of an infection and perturbation in the local vaginal or rectal microbiome can lead to increased susceptibility. Moreover, recent data suggest that sexual preference can significantly alter the microbiome, but it is currently unknown how this affect susceptibility to STI infections. To determine potential microbiota host factors associated with susceptibility to an STI and/or course of infection, we will study the microbiome from vaginal/rectal swabs as well as stool samples. In collaboration with experts in the field of microbiota research we will determine in match-pair analysis associated microbial perturbation.

Inflammation research
Studies have demonstrated that local inflammation e.g. through co-infection with NG can increase the susceptibility of HIV infection17. While this has been studied in detail for HIV infection, very little is known in terms of localized or systemic inflammation and its impact on susceptibility or protection from sexually transmitted pathogens. In particular, it is unknown whether an antiviral or antibacterial immune response can promote or inhibit the establishment of other infections. We will therefore use a string of immunological techniques including multicolor flow cytometry and Luminex technology to determine potential important factors.

Host genetics
While some host genetic factors have been identified for HIV and HCV, only little is known about host genetics for other sexual transmitted infections. This may be important as some of the sexual transmitted infections such as CT or NG can lead to long-term destructive inflammation and rheumatological problems, if not diagnosed and treated early. Thus, understanding potential factors underlying potential severity of disease may provide insight into pathogenesis and development of novel therapeutics.

Biobanking for future studies
A central storage of residual samples in a quality controlled manner will allow.