Annual tuberculosis meeting educates, inspires new perspective

Newfound knowledge of tuberculosis, the opportunity to network with both peers and leading experts and a different perspective to approaching her work.

Marjan Molemans, a junior researcher at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD), is taking all of this – and more – away from the annual TBnet Academy.

Organized by TBnet, a European research collaboration, the TBnet Academy brings together 20 young clinicians and researchers to attend a three-day intensive course. This year’s event was held earlier this month in St. Petersburg, Russia. The goal is to provide education on tuberculosis (TB) management and research in Europe.

As one of the founding partners of TBnet, AIGHD helped fund this year’s academy.

“I don’t have a clinical background, though most of the other participants did and so I learned a different way of looking at things,” said Marjan.

“From working with data, I had always thought the treatment course looked like more of straight line, but through the presentations at the academy, it’s become a lot clearer to me how big the challenges are around diagnosis and treatment.”

The presentation format is what makes the academy unique, says Frank van Leth, chair of TBnet and AIGHD researcher.

“Instead of having the TBnet faculty members lecture to the attendees, the attendees themselves are the presenters.”

The 20 students, who were selected to attend through an application process, are divided into groups and assigned a topic along a mentor, who is a member of the TBnet faculty.

In advance of the meeting, the group works together to put together a presentation on a TB-focused theme, like epidemiology, with support and guidance from their mentor. At the academy, each team presents their work and educates their peers on their newfound knowledge.

“The nice thing is before you attend, you already have more background one of the topics than you normally would, and it gets us more actively involved,” said Marjan. “For me personally, it was also a good opportunity to train my presentations skills.”

In addition to the presentations and formal sessions, each academy incorporates site visits to local labs and treatment facilities, an important component of the program.

“The site visits are crucial because it gives clinicians and research context to the local work happening in that area and enables them to see firsthand some of the differences and inequalities with regards to access to tuberculosis care and infrastructure,” said Frank.

For Marjan, the site visit changed how she views her work.

“As a researcher, I never get to see patients, but when we visited the site, I saw patients with multi-drug resistant TB who have been in a hospital for six months or more, far away from home” she said.

“Doing data analysis moving forward, I’ll more often think about patients, and the challenges their diagnosis and treatment comes with.”

Education is just one part of TBnet’s mandate, which was founded in 2006.

The network organization’s 650 European members work together to promote TB research by sharing and developing ideas and research protocols, which has resulted in increased capacity for research and the development of protocols in Europe and beyond.

“We connect TB research throughout Europe, which is critical to ensuring we have enough patients and enough diversity to really address operational research questions around this disease,” added Frank.

“By bringing our research together we’re able to address health inequalities and analyze the impact of treatment.”

TBnet’s research has been featured in several high-profile publications including The New England Journal of Medicine, and Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Visit TBnet website for more information.