Professor Becker, when people read your CV or reports about you, it quickly becomes clear that you are not just passionate about science, but people too. Where does your distinctly humanitarian attitude come from? Countries in the southern hemisphere or near the Equator and the people who live there already interested me during my medical studies. Spending time in Nigeria, Ghana and Australia only reinforced this interest. Tropical infectious diseases affect more than one billion people – and often children and the weakest members of society. Once you have seen this in the local clinics, you really want to change this situation.
The DRUID LOEWE Centre, which has been funded since the beginning of 2018, fits in with this. You are its manager and scientific coordinator and it aims to pool the capacities and expertise within the federal state of Hesse related to research into neglected tropical diseases. What are the most urgent goals that you would like to fulfil with your interdisciplinary work as part of DRUID? There are too few drugs available to treat tropical infectious diseases; they often have serious side-effects and there is a danger that the diseases will develop resistance to the drugs. The most important goal of DRUID* is therefore to characterise new target molecules to develop drugs, vaccines and diagnostic facilities. This is how we want to contribute to innovative approaches to solving problems and breaking cycles of poverty, raise an awareness of the issue and, by continuing to develop pathogen models, be better prepared to face acute challenges.
It is also interesting to note that in your search for an active substance to combat malaria, you came across the dye, methylene blue, which was already being used against the tropical disease in the 19th century, but was then forgotten. Is this an isolated case or how is it possible that knowledge, which has already been acquired, then "gets lost"? The work on methylene blue and malaria was not continued for many years because there were then other very good active substances, such as chloroquine, which also did not (temporarily) turn patients’ eyes and urine blue. This has changed with the emergence of resistance to drugs. By the way, new information has been found about many active substances over the years and new areas of application have opened up. If, for example, a cancer drug is also effective against an infectious pathogen, this can be very helpful for our work in the sense of "drug repurposing".
You have been conducting research and teaching at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen for almost 18 years; DRUID has become your daily work, but this has not prevented you from acting as a Vice President of the German Research Association or working at the EU in Brussels. How do you manage to cope with the multitude of tasks without neglecting your private life? Combining intensive academic work and family life is often an enormous challenge. Both involve time, strength, that is to say, being present inwardly and outwardly – and inspiration. You cannot just cope with this by optimising your time management. Handling this tension and remaining confident that your family will be able to handle the strain are hard for many researchers and academics. At the same time, the sense of enrichment that you experience through your family and children is so infinite that it also motivates you in your academic work – especially when you are dealing with topics that you believe are important for our future. As a result, my private life and my work are becoming increasingly intertwined and I can often no longer distinguish between my hobby and my work - and that is good, because it focuses all my energies in one direction. My family has always supported me a great deal in my desire to pursue academic work. At the same time, my mentors and my environment have always supported me to enable me to have a family life too. I am very grateful for this!
*Novel Drug Targets against Poverty-related and Neglected Tropical Infectious Diseases
- former spokeswoman of the LOEWE Center DRUID
- Coordinator of the DFG priority program SPP 1710
- President of the German Research Foundation