UGent engineer wins European Space Agency’s Young Researcher Award


A Ghent University engineer has won the ESA’s prestigious award for her work on the effects of space travel on the immune systems

Astronaut health

Bio-engineer Merel Van Walleghem of Ghent University (UGent) has won this year’s Young Researcher Award from the European Space Agency (ESA) for her investigation into the influence of stress factors in space that limit the immune system.

Van Walleghem (pictured) presented her research at ESA headquarters in Toulouse, where she took part in a scientific symposium about long-term space travel. She presented her research into how space travel and long-term stays in space can influence an immune system that is not designed to function outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

According to the bio-engineer, who is finishing her PhD research at UGent, there are several stress factors in space, where there is no gravitational pull, atmospheric pressure or protection from radiation – which all pose problems for the functioning of the immune system.

“The mechanisms that govern our immune response to fight bacteria, viruses and fungi don’t function very well in free space,” says Van Walleghem. “The insights I will gather in my research can contribute to improving the health of future astronauts in the International Space Station or – why not? – during a journey to Mars.”

Photo courtesy Merel Van Walleghem/Facebook

Ghent University

Ghent University (UGent) is one of Flanders’ most pluralistic and liberal institutions of higher education, and its motto has long been “dare to think”. UGent is renowned for its research in bio and life sciences.
Latin - UGent was originally founded as a Latin-speaking state university by the Dutch king William I.
Nobel - Corneel Heymans, the only Fleming to have won a Nobel Prize, studied at the university.
Autonomy - UGent is the largest employer in East Flanders.

million euros in annual revenue

1 882

first female student admitted

1 930

Dutch becomes university’s official language