András Spaan (Medical microbiologist in training / PhD student)

András Spaan (Medical microbiologist in training / PhD student)

With enthusiasm and loads of energy András is specializing to become a medical microbiologist at the UMC Utrecht, and at the same time he is a PhD student focusing on the MRSA bacterium. In the Netherlands, we have the resistant “hospital-acquired bacterium” MRSA under control. However, in many other countries, such as the United States, MRSA has developed into a serious clinical and societal problem. Science has become entangled in a race with Staphylococcus aureus, the scientific term of the MRSA bacterium. András has realized that both his work as a medical doctor and as a scientist really matter. He proofs that work in the clinical and research in the lab can work well together and can even complement and strengthen each other.

“Bridging two disciplines”

“During my medical training, I did a medical internship in a poor suburb of Cape Town. There, I observed the destructive power of infectious diseases, both at the individual as the societal level. Especially HIV has disastrous consequences in southern Africa. Not only for the patients themselves but for the society and economy as well. This was very impressive to see. Never before have I experienced infectious diseases around me at such a high density. Because HIV weakens the immune system, HIV is responsible for all sorts of secondary infections.  From a medical standpoint, this was a very interesting and fascinating time.”

Infectious diseases and stigmata

“After my graduation, I worked as an STD-doctor at the Public Health Service of Amsterdam. I am not only interested in the medical and scientific sides of infectious diseases but also in the individual and societal problems that go with them. Infectious diseases are timeless and have always gone hand in hand with stigmata, also in the West. During the Middle Ages, people with plague and leprosy were ostracized or locked up. Nowadays, there are still a lot of stigmata concerning, for example, HIV. Prejudice is often caused by a lot of misunderstanding and anxiety. People are often reluctant to make their disease public. They are afraid to discuss their illness because it is a taboo, or because they fear to go through it alone. Stigmata are medically-speaking counterproductive: they make treatment and infection prevention difficult.”

Bridging disciplines

“Since 2008, I work at the UMC Utrecht. Here, I could combine my training to become a medical specialist with a PhD in the field of research that I am very much interested in: infection and immunity. I aspire to contribute to the diagnostics, prevention, and treatment of infectious diseases. My PhD research is guided by world-wide medical and societal problems caused daily by Staphylococcus aureus. As I am both a doctor and a scientist, I aim to bridge the clinic with research. That gives me a lot of satisfaction. In addition, I get a lot of pleasure from the creativity that I can put in fundamental scientific questions. In my current position, they fit together perfectly!”

“There is great investment in growth and development of employees and students”

State-of-the-art research

“I am glad to be part of Infection and Immunity at UU as a medical doctor and a scientist. We are an internationally renowned cooperation with excellent infrastructure facilitating state-of-the-art scientific research. The distance to the clinic is very short, and there is great investment in the growth and development of employees and students.”

Science is fun!

“My PhD research deals with the question of how S. aureus, often termed as MRSA bacterium, can mislead the immune system. We already knew that the bacterium can destroy immune cells by making toxins. However, the underlying mechanisms were still largely unknown. We have now discovered that the MRSA bacterium recognizes immune cells by their appearance, and therefore it can purposely and efficiently target specific cells. I will shortly be defending my PhD thesis on this topic. After my PhD defence, I will focus on my training to become medical microbiologist. I will most definitely remain involved with the research; because: science is fun!”