PIMIT Background

The Mixed Research Unit (UMR) "Infectious Processes in Tropical Island Environments, acronym PIMIT" was created in 2015 and hosts associate and full Professors, researchers, engineers and technicians from the Reunion University, INSERM (U1187), CNRS (9192) and IRD (249). It is located in Saint-Denis de La Réunion at the CYROI research platform (Reunion Cyclotron, 2 rue Maxime Rivière, 97490 Ste Clotilde). This unit of about 40 members (20 permanents and 20 non permanents) conducts research on zoonotic infectious risk on Reunion Island and in the South-West Indian Ocean Islands by developing a multidisciplinary and systemic approach. Its objectives are to understand, through a "One Health" perspective, the infectious processes occurring in zoonotic emergence by taking into consideration animal reservoirs that maintain zoonotic pathogens in natura and the ecosystems in which pathogens and reservoirs evolve, as well as the physio-pathological consequences of human infection. These studies involve clinical, epidemiological, molecular, cellular and ecological investigations and aim at identifying the microbiological, genetic, entomological, ecological and anthropogenic factors that contribute to disease emergence. The UMR explores epidemic processes and / or endemic maintenance of zoonotic pathogens, as well as the immunopathological and molecular mechanisms that contribute to the diversity of clinical expression of the infections in humans. PIMIT is structured in 2 research teams: Dynamics of Infectious agents in Insular systems (acronym DySIIs) and Molecular and CellularMechanisms of Pathogenic InfectiousAgents (acronym MOCA), participating in the development of health and environmental research on infectious diseases by setting up basic and translational research programs with researchers, hospital practitioners, technical staff, students, and regional public health actors (CIRE, ARS, CIC).

PIMIT results from the fusion of two entities present on Reunion island: GIS CRVOI (Center for Research and Surveillance on Infectious Diseases in the Indian Ocean) created in 2007 following the explosive Chikungunya epidemics that hit the island in 2006, and established at CYROI, and EA4517 GRI ( Research Group in Immunopathology) of the University of Reunion. These two structures were interested in the study of emerging infectious diseases by complementary approaches that continue within UMR PIMIT. The action of the UMR PIMIT has a regional vocation, focusing on the infectious risks prevailing in the south-western Indian Ocean and surrounding countries, in particular in the East Coast of Africa. It is part of the national, European, and international partnership for research on infectious risks in insular environments including emerging diseases by strengthening the capacity for control and intervention in south-western Indian Ocean.

Team 1: Dynamics of Infectious agents in Insular Systems (acronym DySIIs) The DySIIs team (led by Pablo Tortosa) essentially develops research programs in disease ecology. DySIIs focuses on two themes: (i) the dynamics of pathogen transmission and the transgression of species barrier through the investigation of biotic (e.g. bats, rats or seabirds) and abiotic (environmental) reservoirs of viral (paramyxovirus, coronavirus, lyssavirus) and bacterial (leptospires) agents with emergence potential, and (ii) the ecology and evolution of vector pathosystems, especially those involving arbovirus transmitted by mosquitoes whose epidemiological data indicate contrasting patterns of transmission between the islands of the region. For this, the team studies the modulation of vector competence by its holobiont (genome of the vector interacting with its microbiome) using insectaries levels 2 and 3 allowing investigating the whole host/vector/pathogen system in controlled conditions.

Team 2: Molecular and CellularMechanisms of Pathogenic InfectiousAgents (acronym MOCA).The MOCA team (led by Philipp Despres) aims to analyze consequences of the host-pathogen interactions (with a particular emphasis on antiviral innate immunity and host metabolism disorders), to reveal important mechanisms involved in viral pathogenicity. MOCA team also seeks to apply knowledge acquired through basic research i) to develop biological tools for virus detection and diagnosis of pathogen-related disease, ii) to implement innovative therapies for viral infection prevention or treatment, as exemplified with the screening of antiviral compounds extracted from tropical medicinal plants, and iii) to design vaccine candidates, mostly live-attenuated viral strains using reverse genetic methods.


Services and innovative activities. PIMIT investigations mobilize various methodologies, including crosscutting hedge tools and approaches related to (i) genomics and post-genomics, (ii) structural and functional cell imaging, (iii) clinical explorations and biomarker identification as well as cohorts surveys, (iv) experimental infections on animal models and (v) biotechnological applications. The UMR transforms the produced knowledge into information that is relevant to the development of health policies and action useful to health stakeholders: evaluation of infectious risk, prevention, improvement and development of innovative tools for pathogens detection adapted to the infectious microbial environment of the southwestern Indian Ocean region and beyond of most tropical countries.

The social utility of the UMR is through partnerships with developing countries in the region and involves an offer of specialized expertise in the field of infectious diseases. This is the objective of the UMR's service function, which includes (i) regional bioscience training (theoretical and practical intensive courses), (ii) diagnostic tests adapted to the emerging or endemic zoonoses in the region; (iii) partnership agreements with NRCs for pathogens of regional interest; and (iv) project hosting under inter-UMR and regional agreements. The sophisticated technological platform allows innovative biotechnological developments, particularly in the field of diagnostic tools and vector control.

Scientific and biomedical benefits. The PIMIT program covers the highly strategic area of emerging infectious diseases at epidemic risk. The conceptual and methodological approaches carried out by PIMIT are multidisciplinary (health, biosciences, ecology, biodiversity-environment). The UMR PIMIT is part of the inter-academic interface between the Faculties of Science and Health and the University Hospital Center. It benefits from its direct implantation in an emergence zone with proximity access to the rich surrounding island ecosystems imbedded in one of the renown biodiversity host spot. The partnership with the local research teams of DéTROI, CIC-EC and the CHU allows the implementation of original medical approaches based on the monitoring of prospective cohorts in populations that are sentinels networks to be quickly mobilized in case of emerging epidemics. The direct scientific and medical expected benefits relate to the following areas: arboviroses in particular chikungunya, dengue and zika, leptospirosis, animal reservoirs in wild (in particular birds, rodents and bats) and domestic (livestock) fauna, ticks and fleas and the diseases they transmit (murine typhus, rickettsioses), respiratory infections with epidemic potential.

Technological spin-offs. The establishment of the UMR PIMIT at the CYROI research platform allows access, optimization and enhancement of technologically advanced facilities available on the site, in particular the Petscan (small animal) and biotechnological resources. The recent implementation of an integrated level 3 infrastructure PLATIN-OI (P3 / I3 / A3) provides a unique biosafety facility in the region that can serve as a scientific hub for the entire Indian Ocean region because it has no equivalent beside those installed in South Africa, India and Australia.