FNRS research mandate assigned to Francesco Renzi to keep on investigating the threat of C. canimorsus for human health

Originating from Sardinia (Italy), Dr. Francesco Renzi obtained his PhD degree in biology and genetics from the University of Milan. In 2009, he joined the University of Basel as a postdoctoral fellow to work alongside with Prof. Guy Cornelis on the pathogenesis of Capnocytophaga canimorsus. In 2012, Francesco followed Guy Cornelis to the UNamur where they established a new research group dedicated to the study of C. canimorsus at the Research Unit in Biology of Microorganisms (URBM) and the Namur Research Pole in Infectiology (NaRePI). Guy Cornelis' research group

C. canimorsus is a bacterium who lives as a commensal in the dog mouth, and is responsible for rare but severe life-threatening infections in humans who have been bitten, scratched, or simply in contact with dogs. Despite the administration of adequate antibiotherapy, C. canimorsus-induced septicemia may evolve to septic shock with mortality as high as 40%.

As of now, Guy Cornelis' research team already made numerous discoveries. They showed that C. canimorsus are endowed with a mechanism that allows them to retrieve glycans from host glycoproteins (Renzi et al., 2015.. This mechanism not only sustains growth of the pathogen in vivo, but may also contribute to neutralize the host immune system. Another objective of the team is to explore the unknown pathway that flips lipoproteins to the surface of C. canimorsus, a pathway that may be crucial for both commensalism and pathogenicity (Lauber et al., 2016). The group recently also showed that only a minority of C. canimorsus strains are virulent for humans and that these strains can be identified by capsular serotyping (Renzi et al., 2018). They recently designed a PCR test with the aim to identify dogs carrying C. canimorsus virulent strains. In the future, these scientific advances may help to prevent C. canimorsus infections, for example through the development of a vaccine against virulent strains or the identification of new targets for drugs development.

While Prof. Guy Cornelis is retiring in September 2019, Francesco Renzi has just been granted a permanent mandate as Research Associate from the FNRS. Thanks to this new mandate, Francesco will be able to maintain this unique research team in Namur – probably the only one in the world focusing exclusively on C. canimorsus!