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Award winners - AZ Foundation & FWO/F.R.S.-FNRS

 

The AstraZeneca Foundation brings science to society. The four winners – Professor Peter Sinnaeve, Professor Françoise Van Bambeke, Professor Jean-Christophe Marine and Professor Hamida Hammad – will each receive €25,000 from the AstraZeneca Foundation to give their innovative research a boost. Each year, the AstraZeneca Foundation together with the F.R.S.-FNRS and the FWO present the AstraZeneca Foundation Awards to reward researchers for important work carried out in a specific therapeutic field. This year four scientific awards were presented, in particular for contributions in the fields of cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, oncology, asthma and COPD.

Since its inception in 1993, the AstraZeneca Foundation has worked to bring science closer to society. Its objective is to harmonise investments in research with patient wellbeing. Since the foundation’s creation, just 20 years ago, €4.6 million have already been invested in scientific research. Since 2010, the AstraZeneca Foundation has been working towards its goal in close collaboration with the F.R.S.- FNRS (Funds for Scientific Research) and the FWO (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek-Vlaanderen). The winners of these scientific awards were therefore chosen by an independent jury set up by the F.R.S.-FNRS and the FWO.

Prof. Dr. Peter Sinnaeve

Prof. Dr. Peter Sinnaeve 

KU Leuven

Cardiovascular Award

25 000€

“MicroRNA clusters in peripheral blood after acute coronary syndromes.”

Cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in the industrialised world, despite the enormous advances in the treatment of myocardial infarction over the last thirty years. In this case, being able to detect conditions such as coronary artery stenosis at an early stage is essential.

Which is why Professor Peter Sinnaeve (KU Leuven) and his team have developed a new test that studies the activity of white blood cells in a basic blood sample, using a chip. White blood cells play an important role in the onset of coronary artery stenosis.

They are currently researching patients having already had a myocardial infarction. “We are studying how the white blood cells are activated and how they lead to a heart attack in order to discover new avenues for improving prevention and treatment,” says Sinnaeve. This research project was rewarded by the AstraZeneca Foundation Award for Cardiovascular Disease.

Professor Peter Sinnaeve

Prof. Dr. Hamida Hammad

Prof. Dr. Hamida Hammad 

UZ Gent

Asthma & COPD Award

25 000€

“Contribution of antigen-presenting cells, airway epithelial cells and innate immune cells in controlling house dust mites.”

Allergic asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the respiratory tract caused by allergens such as dust mites, is becoming increasingly common in Western countries. The disease is determined by allergen-specific Th2 lymphocytes. These auxiliary T lymphocytes are a form of white blood cell that plays an important role in the immune system. In particular, they stimulate the specific factors responsible for asthma symptoms.

Professor Hamida Hammad (University of Ghent) wanted to use her research to find a tool for determining where and how long after exposure to dust mites the reaction of these T cells is initiated. She is also studying which lung cells are the precise cause of T cell production.

For this, she has raised mice carrying a human gene in their DNA, so that their T cells recognise dust mite allergens. Using these mice, it will at last be possible to study and address the reaction speed and the exact role played by lung cells in the development of mite immunity. This research has been rewarded by the AstraZeneca Foundation Award for Asthma and COPD. By more precisely defining the body’s reaction to mite allergens and the onset of adverse Th2 responses to allergens, it will be possible to disrupt this process and put an end to this form of allergic asthma.

Professor Hamida Hammad

Prof. Dr. Jean-Christophe Marine

Prof. Dr. Jean-Christophe Marine

KU Leuven

Oncology Award

25 000€

“Identification of MDM4 as a key anticancer therapeutic agent”

Professor Jean-Christophe Marine (KU Leuven) has received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award for Oncology for his discoveries in the treatment of melanomas.

A melanoma is a malignant form of skin cancer, also considered one of the most aggressive. Treatment is particularly difficult because melanomas are generally resistant to chemotherapy. For some time, Marine has therefore been studying a protein called “p53”, which slows down the cancer’s development. p53 gene mutations are common in most types of cancer, but are rare in melanomas.

Marine’s team has now demonstrated that most melanomas contain much higher concentrations of MDM4 – a protein that fights p53 – than normal cells. “We have also found a pharmacological way of preventing the MDM4-p53 interaction, and have therefore been able to restore the p53’s tumour suppressor effect in melanomas,” says Marine. By restoring the activity of p53 in melanomas, these cells finally become more vulnerable to chemotherapy, to the extent that this approach clearly offers new hope for patients diagnosed with a melanoma.

Professor Jean-Christophe Marine

Prof. Dr. Françoise Van Bambeke

Prof. Dr. Françoise Van Bambeke

UCL

Infectiology Award

25 000€

“Bacterial and cellular factors affecting antibiotic activity towards persistent infections”

The AstraZeneca Foundation Award for Infectiology was awarded this year to Professor Françoise Van Bambeke (UCL) for her research into bacteria’s resistance mechanisms to antibiotics.

Many bacterial infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. This research focuses on bacteria's different survival strategies. They can for example nestle within cells in the patient’s body or form “biofilms” (in other words, the bacteria produce a mucus they surround themselves with then attach themselves to a surface, such as dental plaque). In both cases, the bacteria are protected from the immune system by their envelope. Unlike other research projects, this one also looks at “active efflux”, i.e. the extent to which and how quickly the antibiotic is pumped out of the cell by active transport. Bacteria having this type of transport mechanism can repel antibiotics, preventing the latter from destroying them. Moreover, it has been proved that efflux increases during antibiotic therapy thus diminishing the medicine’s action.

This research also highlights the importance of studying the activity of antibiotics in clinical models mimicking as closely as possible the bacteria’s environment at the site of infection as well as their survival mode in order to better predict their effectiveness. Key areas for further research include the precise description of the resistance mechanisms and monitoring their progression during treatment.

Professor Françoise Van Bambeke

The AstraZeneca Foundation brings science closer to society

 

Since its inception in 1993, the AstraZeneca Foundation has worked to bring science closer to society. Its objective is to harmonise investments in research with patient wellbeing. Since the foundation’s creation 20 years ago, €4.6 million have already been invested in scientific research.

NS Approval ID 1009870 Revision date 09/2016