From the lab to the hospital: VIB launches real-world research projects


Patients in Flanders’ university hospitals will help researchers to find solutions to some major medical challenges

Grand Challenges programme

Three major medical research projects have been launched by VIB, the Flemish life sciences research institute, under its Grand Challenges Programme. The initiative is intended to help VIB increase its impact on society by supporting collaborative projects that translate laboratory research into real-world applications.

“We will put our heads together and work with experts in other disciplines, going from patient to doctor to scientist, and back,” says Jo Bury, VIB’s general manager. “This interaction will enable us to provide concrete answers to major societal challenges.”

In the first project, VIB researchers and clinicians in university hospitals in Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven will track the medical characteristics of patients with liver problems. “By combining data from different research areas, we will identify biomarkers for chronic liver diseases,” explained Nico Callewaert at the VIB-UGent Centre for Medical Biotechnology. “These, in turn, will help clinical experts in the hospitals to recognise liver problems more quickly and to treat them more efficiently.”

Mapping tumour ecosystems

The second project aims to improve the effectiveness of cancer treatments that harness the power of the patient’s immune system. Such treatments only work in some patients, and it is currently impossible to predict who will respond positively.

“We will work together with clinical experts from the Leuven University Hospital to map the entire ecosystem of tumours at the cellular level, before and during the therapy,” said Jean-Christophe Marine of the VIB-KU Leuven Centre for Cancer Biology. “In this way, we will identify new biomarkers that can predict the patient’s response to immune therapy.”

The third project will look for better ways to detect rare immune diseases. “By extensively screening patients in hospitals and combining these data with our laboratory research, we want to identify new biomarkers for the diseases,” said Bart Lambrecht at the VIB-UGent Centre for Inflammation Research. “We hope to arrive at a better diagnosis and treatment for primary immune deficiencies, and at the same time learn much about the functioning of the immune system.”

This work will take place in collaboration with researchers from the VIB-KU Leuven Centre for Brain Research and the university hospitals in Ghent and Leuven.

A further call for proposals under the Grand Challenges Programme was launched in August, with winners likely to receive funding in 2019.

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