The Walloon excellence in lifesciences and biotechnology, WELBIO is an inter-university life sciences research institute based in Wallonia, Belgium. WELBIO aims at promoting scientific excellence in fundamental life sciences research and translating scientific achievements in medical, pharmaceutical and veterinary biotechnology applications.

WELBIO supports at ULB:

Awardees 2013

Vaccination stategies

A certain type of white blood cells, the cytotoxic T lymphocytes, plays a crucial role in immune defence. In the case of an infection, these lymphocytes rapidly multiply to destroy the infected cells. After this phase, a small number of such cells remain in the body, acting as a memory and allowing the body to react quicker and more effectively, should there be any new infection. These "memory" cells also constitute the basis for preventive vaccinations. The project at hand involves studying the molecular mechanisms responsible for the initial development and continuing existence of these "memory" cells. This research has a direct impact on the development of new vaccination strategies, for instance against tuberculosis or the AIDS virus.

Team leader: Stanislas Goriely, IMI, Faculty of Medecine

Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease in Europe. As yet there is no treatment for it other than providing relief for the pulmonary symptoms which patients suffer from. The genetic cause of the disease has however been known for 25 years and involves mutations of the gene encoding the CFTR protein. Gaining better knowledge of how this protein - involved in the transport of chloride ions in the bronchi - functions should help us find new therapies for the disease. The aim of this project is to determine the atomic architecture of CFTR, thereby enabling us to better understand how it works at the molecular level. The project is based on nanobodies, a Belgian technology which has already been instrumental in determining the structures of other proteins.

Team leader: Cédric Govaerts, Structure and Function of biological membranes, Faculty of Science

Tumour development

As cancer develops, the immune system and the non-tumour cells of the host play an important role. In particular, different populations of white blood cells (leucocytes), the mediators of the immune system, can play one of two roles: they can either help eliminate the tumour cells or they can help them survive and spread. In this project, researchers are studying the molecules controlling the traffic of the leucocyte populations and their influence on the development of tumours in mice. The objective is to assess to what extent the receptors of these molecules may be utilised as therapeutic targets in the cancer treatment of humans.

Team leader: Marc Parmentier, IRIBHM, Faculty of Medecine

Awardees 2011

Cerebral cortex

The cerebral cortex is the most complex structure of the human brain. The seat of the majority of higher brain functions, it is also the target of many neurological diseases. In this project, researchers are studying how the cerebral cortex and its associated diseases develop, using new technologies based on pluripotent stem cells developed in the laboratory. The researchers have set themselves three targets: to identify new genes involved in cortical development; to utilise lab-generated cortical nerve cells in an experimental model for the cell treatment of cerebral cortex diseases; and the generation and study of cell models of human neurological diseases.

Team leader: Pierre Vanderhaeghen, IRIBHM, Faculty of Medecine.

Stem cells and skin cancer

This laboratory has identified the cells behind basal and squamous cell carcinoma, the two types of skin cancer most common in humans. These cancer stem cells have been identified in mice through the use of genetic models. The project involves studying the role played by these stem cells in triggering tumours, their growth and their recurrence following treatment. Thanks to the study of the genes expressed by these cancer stem cells, the researchers have been able to identify new markers expressed by the latter. They are now going to work on defining the role of these markers in regulating the cancer stem cells and cancer development. They will also be determining to what extent these new markers can be used as prognostic factors and/or as targets for the development of new therapies against epithelial cancers in humans.

Team leader: Cédric Blanpain, IRIBHM, Faculty of medecine.

Normal and cancerous cell divisions

Cancers are to a certain extent the result of anomalies in the control of cell proliferation. The different stages of the cell division cycle are orchestrated by a family of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs). The aim of this project is to understand new mechanisms for regulating CDK4 and CDK6 which play a decisive role in the activation of the division cycle of normal and cancer cells. The results of this research should help us to identify pharmacological targets, to understand the reasons behind resistance to anti-CDK therapies in the course of clinical studies, and to improve specific treatment and thus reduce side effects.

Team leader: Pierre Roger, IRIBHM, Faculty of Medecine.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer covers a range of well-defined cancers with different histologies and characterised by varying rates of proliferation and biological aggressiveness. The aim of this project is to characterise the physiopathology and development of these different types of cancer at a molecular level. To do this, researchers will be combining the results of two complementary high-speed methodologies: gene expression profiles obtained using DNA microarrays and transcriptome sequencing. This molecular characterisation will contribute to defining new molecular markers for diagnosing and forecasting the development of the disease and the response to its treatment and to identifying individualised therapeutic approaches.

Team leader: Carine Maenhaut, IRIBHM, Faculty of Medecine.

Renal insufficiency and sleeping sickness

The aim of this project is to study the cellular functions of a family of proteins called apolipoproteins L, as well as their medical potential. Two different angles are planned. On the one hand, researchers will be analysing the biological processes controlled by apolipoproteins L, paying particular attention to the role of apolipoprotein L1 in the renal function. This study could prove to be of use in treating terminal renal insufficiency. On the other hand, the team has created mutants of the apolipoprotein L1 capable of effectively killing the Trypanosoma gambiense and T. rhodesiense pathogens responsible for sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in cattle. Researchers will be studying the potential of applying this breakthrough both to an understanding of why T. gambiense is resistant to human serum and to fighting the human and animal diseases caused by these parasites.

Team leader: Etienne Pays, Molecular Parasitology Laboratory, IBMM, Faculty of Science.