Professor Dr. Anne-Mieke Vandamme - Clinical and Epidemiological Virology at University of Leuven, Belgium

Our society is confronted with huge problems such as Global Warming, Vaccine Hesitancy, Inequality. The three main branches of sciences in universities can each only offer a part of the solution. That is why the Institute for the Future (IF) at KU Leuven wants to provide fertile ground as a research incubator for responsible innovation, to address such wicked problems with transdisciplinary teams including societal actors. IF launched an Honours Programme “Transdisciplinary Insights” as part of an incubator-track, where master’s students spend a year working on a variety of submitted challenges. By July 2019, 60 master’s students from 10 disciplines and 12 countries were trained, working on 6 different challenges: HIV drug resistance in Africa, Vaccine hesitancy, Non-judgmental counselling of parents after a positive NIP test for Down syndrome, Building an equitable and resilient society, The future of dairy farming in Flanders, From consumers to prosumers. From October 2019 onwards, the teams are mixed with master’s and PhD students, and in some cases postdocs. Two of the challenges fostered new research lines. 25 stakeholders are involved: Universities, Industry, Society, Government, with as ethical framework the Sustainable Development Goals.

Although, the IF and the Honours Programme ‘Transdisciplinary Insights’ have demonstrated the benefits to the university of implementing transdisciplinarity in the curriculum and of having a dedicated incubator for transdisciplinary research ideas, scaling up this approach beyond an honours programme is not obvious because of the high work load and the lack of funding. We need other ways to attract more bachelor’s and master’s students, since we believe that each student should be given the opportunity to experience transdisciplinarity and get some skills in communication, co-creation of knowledge, sustainability, system thinking, and problem-solving. Such skills are essential for their professional development.

Anne-Mieke Vandamme was trained as biochemist, and holds a PhD in sciences since 1986. She joined the Rega Institute  at  the  University of Leuven in 1990, where she started a unit on virus genetic testing for clinical practice. Together with Professor Van Ranst, she founded a new division, Clinical and Epidemiological Virology. She is now in the process of co-starting a transdisciplinary research incubator, called “Institute for the future”. Anne-Mieke Vandamme and her team perform research on the molecular epidemiology of HIV, HTLV, HCV and arboviruses, on HIV and HCV drug resistance testing in clinical context, and on bioinformatics (data mining, phylogenetic analysis) tools. In the fields of molecular epidemiology and drug resistance, she has an extensive and widely recognized expertise. 

She has been participating in or coordinating several European projects, and supported the development of a few widely used (bioinformatics) tools: the Rega HIV Drug Resistance algorithm; the Rega HIV typing and subtyping tool; RegaDB, a free and open source software for collecting  and sharing HIV epidemiological, clinical and virological data; the phylogeotool; and the panviral typing tool (Genome Detective). She authored more than 400 publications in international journals such as Lancet, Nature Medicine, Lancet Infectious Diseases, PNAS, Journal of Virology, Trends in Microbiology, half of them with first and/or last author from the lab.

‘Transdisciplinary Insights’, an Honours Programme at KU Leuven bridging education and transdisciplinary research

In addition to her research activities, Anne-Mieke Vandamme is organizer of the yearly International Bioinformatics Workshop on Virus Evolution and Molecular Epidemiology (VEME, 24th in 2019), is co-initiator and co- organizer of the European HIV Drug Resistance Workshop (17th in 2019), and is invited professor at the ‘Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical’ (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal) and visiting professor at the Medical School, University of Belgrade, Serbia. She also teaches Evolutionary Genetics and Bioinformatics at the KU Leuven, and co-started an Honours Programme on Transdisciplinary Insights.