Portrait and video Ariane Briegel: “I love working with people from different backgrounds”

Thursday, December 8, 2022

As a result of growing multidrug-resistant pathogens and worldwide pandemics, infectious diseases are becoming more prevalent. A deeper knowledge of the interaction between bacteria and human cells is required to develop new treatments. Prof. dr. Ariane Briegel, professor at University Leiden and recently a Medical Delta professor with a double appointment at TU Delft, studies such pathogens using high resolution 3-dimensional imaging. “I think this discipline is absolutely fascinating. There is this unseen world of microbes, and our tools enable us to get a glimpse of it.”

“I’m really curious about what being part of Medical Delta will bring me”, says Ariane Briegel. “It is a new community for me. I hope to meet new people. People that will inspire me with new ideas and new questions. I am also excited about strengthening the collaboration with TU Delft. My research is very fundamental, but we are slowly moving to more practical use. Being part of Medical Delta helps me with that.”

Can you briefly tell what your expertise is?

“I’m a microbiologist. I study bacteria with imaging techniques. The main technique we use is electron cryotomography. Using this technique, we can create 3D images of bacteria in their native state in a very high resolution. This enables us to see what kind of structures bacteria use to interact with their environment. How do they swim around? How do they know where to go in your body? To investigate this behavior at the nanoscale, we rely on collecting high resolution images at the Dutch cryo-electron microscopy center NeCEN at Leiden University.

I think this discipline is absolutely fascinating. There is this unseen world of microbes, and our tools enable us to get a glimpse of it. What happens, how bacteria look like, and how they interact. For instance, in the past few years, we discovered the composition of the bacterial ‘nose’ that enables the cells to smell for example sugars and other environmental cues that they use to navigate. This is medically relevant: many pathogens use this behavior during the first step of host infection. Finding ways to inactivate this ‘nose’ could help combat especially antibiotic-resistant species.”

I think this discipline is absolutely fascinating. There is this unseen world of microbes, and our tools enable us to get a glimpse of it.

What is the added value of Medical Delta for your work?

“Collaboration with TU Delft gives me access to a lot of specialists. Presently, I’m already working with some of them. One example includes working with Stan Brouns. He is an expert in bacteriophages which are viruses that infect bacteria. Phages therapy has a lot of potential and may be an alternative for antibiotics in some instances. Another example includes working with Arjen Jacobi, who is a cryo-electron microscopy expert that develops new tools for this technique. At the moment, the equipment in our lab is not designed for strictly anaerobic pathogens. With his help we will work on developing ways to work around that.”

What is your added value to Medical Delta?

“I aim to integrate high resolution microscopy into the Medical Delta community. This technic was highly relevant in understanding Covid and determine the detailed structure of the Covid spikes, which were key to develop effective vaccines. It will be essential in understanding other pathogens as well, and therefore is an important tool to prepare for future pandemics. I’m the only Medical Delta professor with this expertise.”

What is it like to start collaborating with someone from a completely different discipline?

“I love working with people from different backgrounds. In the beginning, it is like speaking a different language. We mean different things with the same words. It takes a while to align our language and you need to talk a lot to figure that out.

In my experience the main element for a successful collaboration is that you get along with the person you are working with. If the personal aspects fit and when you are both excited, then it works.”

What do you hope to achieve for the patient and the healthcare professional?

“In the past we did not conduct any research that could be directly applied in the clinic. We were mainly working on fundamental research questions to understand how bacteria behave and interact with their environment. But recently that changed slightly. With a KWF grant, we work with the Prinses Maxima Center to develop biosensors that are based on the bacterial nose. We are researching how this behavior may be used to ‘sniff out’ cancer in patient urine, and the results so far are promising.

Another thought is how we can use our knowledge to better understand the process of virus infection, such as Covid. I was triggered by student who asked about how our work can help understand Covid. There are many open questions, such as when a virus enters your body from the environment. Do bacteria play a role during the transmission process? We are looking into it. There could be a link with our studies.”

You are now likely to meet more scientists from other disciplines and institutes. Whose work really surprised you?

“There are so many interesting scientists. Especially from different universities who are not from my own field. Maybe not immediately when you read somebody’s cv, but when they start telling what they do it really inspires me. At TU Delft for example Stan Brouns, Arjen Jacobi, and Cees Dekker. I am excited to be their new colleague.”

This article is part of a series in which we highlight the eight new Medical Delta professors. Click here for the other portraits published so far.

Cookie consent

This website uses cookies. Cookies are textfiles that are stored on the users harddrive when they visit a website, they are used to make websites function efficiently and serve information to the the owner of the website. Please accept the cookies to use the website properly.