Interview with ESPID President, Ronald De Groot

Please introduce yourself and your role in ESPID 2015.R.deGroot_photo_web.jpg

I am Professor Emeritus of Paediatrics. My background is in Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology (PID). I am currently the president of ESPID and I am a long standing member of ESPID since the late 1980s. I have served as president since 2012 and my term will end in 2015.

Which sessions or aspects of the meeting are you most excited about?

One of the elements of the conferenc​e which I like most is the ESPID Research Master Class which I initiated several years ago with Jussi Mertsola. This class is my #1 choice because it brings together young people in the early phase of their scientific career with some of the best clinical scientists in ESPID. When we are together, it is always a fantastic day with lots of interaction between all involved. The ERMC basically forms the future of our society. I've always been very interested into how I can stimulate young professionals to do research in PID and to support them in their career. Working with young scientists, hearing their thoughts and ideas on research and discussing these ideas with them is for me always a highlight of the conference. A meeting like ours also has a large number of both oral and poster presentations, mostly from young scientists who present a lot of interesting new material. Young ESPID is the future, we enjoy learning from them and involving them as much as possible in the ESPID Meeting.

Over the years, the ESPID Plenary sessions have been excellent. The conference is an amazing opportunity to bring in top scientists - not only paediatricians - but also molecular biologists, microbiologists and epidemiologists, who are working in the field of infectious diseases and often also in paediatrics. This becomes a learning experience for everyone including me allows us to explore new aspects of our specialty.

Sharing ideas with colleagues outside of the meeting, is equally important because it allows you to get to know people and expand your network for research. The whole issue of how we can make ESPID stronger by supporting networks and research collaborations is also very high on my agenda.  Time spent together outside of the conference sessions can contribute a lot to this goal.

What are the hot topics in paediatric infectious diseases?

Obviously, at this moment, hot is outbreaks of infectious diseases. The major outbreaks of Ebola and MERS is from a tremendous challenge.  A second hot topic is always vaccine preventable diseases - are we successful in implementing vaccines? The answer is no. Many countries still fail to have a high uptake of vaccinations and we need to keep working on better uptake of vaccines. Along with that, we need to work on the societal acceptability for new vaccines. Vaccines for Rotavirus, and Varicella virus are not yet routinely implemented in many European countries. Vaccination of young children to prevent influenza is only introduced in a limited number of countries for specific age groups and insufficient and implemented in high risk groups of children.

System biology or system vaccinology are tremendous developments offering unique opportunities for research in PID. The rapid developments in the understanding of microbial-host interactions and the implementation of novel immunological, genetic and bioinformatics approaches are of tremendous importance for PIDs research and understanding.

Multidisciplinary approaches to PIDs which include collaboration between public health institutions and public health experts, clinicians, clinician scientists, immunologists, molecular biologists, bioinformatics experts, and pharmacologists will become increasingly important for research success. Previously, a conference like ours was predominantly focused on clinical infection disease and attended by paediatricians alone. We must move to the next step where we will think and work much more in a multidisciplinary setting. We also need to consider the fact that ESPID has a responsibility as a society to help develop international networks which are necessary for research in the future.

Are there any particular challenges you face regarding infectious diseases now or in the future?

In many countries in Europe, PID has not been accepted as a subspecialty. We therefore face a particular challenge to find ways to support paediatricians who are involved in PIDs and live in countries where there is no recognized PID subspecialty. We need to learn from the models in countries where PIDs has been well developed such as the UK, Finland, the Netherlands and Spain. We should try to implement the lessons learned in those countries to strengthen our colleagues who are involved in PIDs.

It is important that we take our societal responsibility seriously and provide help and education to those parts of the world where knowledge in PIDs is weaker, but where problems in PIDs are much more prevalent than in Europe. We need to make a serious effort to ensure that our educational materials reach those paediatricians who are really in need of support, especially in Africa and Asia.

Industry has been very important for the support of the activities of our society, but industry is changing. We cannot collaborate with industry in the old ways so we need to find new ways of collaboration between industry, especially with vaccine industry, and ESPID.

What are you looking forward to in Leipzig?

Obviously we are a European society, so it is important that we have a balanced system to actually choose individual countries to organize the ESPID meeting. We should find a balance between having a meeting in Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, Southern Europe and Western Europe. Going to a different country and culture is a very positive element of our meetings. Having said that, our Conference has changed from a meeting which could be organized by local organizers with minimal involvement from the board, to what is now the largest meeting for paediatric infectious diseases in the world. ESPID has become a high quality international forum for PIDs with colleagues from many countries bringing in their own networks of colleagues from both inside and outside paediatrics. With these networks, we can ensure the highest quality programme and ensure that each year it offers new faces, new people and new insights. We can do this with our multitude of international participants, not just Europe, but increasingly from Australia, Africa, Asia and North America.

Organising in a country like Germany offers the local chairpersons the opportunity to bring in local colleagues from the host country and offer them the opportunity to meet and interact with international colleagues. Germany has only once organized ESPID before 2015. The ESPID board is excited by the fantastic program offered by our German colleagues. We like to go to Germany since the meeting will definitely stimulate the interest in PID there and the opportunity to strengthen our colleagues' position in their own country. ESPID doesn't have many German members and we're very eager to use the meeting in Leipzig to attract many new young ESPID members.

On a personal level, it has been a tremendous challenge to be president of the board. Sometimes you receive criticism and very often you receive the credit. I must say here that the credit needs to be shared with my colleagues on the board and our active board members. Our treasurer, Tobias Tenenbaum and secretary, Fernanda Rodrigues are in daily email contact with me and take on a good portion of the work. This is also the case for the other board members, all of them have a very active role and have spent a lot of time working on the society. It's been fun to try to bring together the society to the next level. I think we're doing pretty well.  A lot of work is done by our committees and again we are blessed with many active members who are willing to do their job. Our collaboration with Kenes has been very good and we are happy with the support we get during the meeting.

We had a fantastic meeting in Dublin and we will definitely have a fantastic meeting in Leipzig 2015 and also in the UK in 2016.

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