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

 

The AstraZeneca Foundation aims to create a framework in which scientific progress can benefit society. Together with the FWO and the F.R.S.-FNRS, AstraZeneca Foundation annually awards Scientific Prizes to researchers who have carried out important work in a specific therapeutic field. This year, three Scientific Prizes are awarded for contributions in the domains of Bioinformatics, Oncology and Respiratory Diseases. Each laureate received a sum of € 25.000 to continue his innovative research.

The 2015 winners of these Scientific Awards are respectively Prof dr. Moreau, Prof dr. Janssens and Prof. dr. Mazzone. Prof. dr. Moreau received one of the first Bioinformatics Award ever granted in Belgium for his research on data fusion in rare diseases and drug discovery. Prof. dr. Janssens was awarded the Respiratory Diseases Award for his findings on the important role Vitamin D can play in the battle against COPD. Finally, the Oncology Award was allocated to Prof. dr. Mazzone for his research on the optimization of cancer treatment.

The three winners were elected by an independent jury composed by the FWO and F.R.S.-FNRS.

Prof. Dr. Aernout Luttun

Prof. dr. Yves Moreau 

KU LEUVEN

Bioinformatics Award

€25,000

“Genomic data fusion in rare genetic disorders and drug discovery”

It is one of the first prices granted in Belgium for this growing topic in biomedical research. The jury has decided in favour of Prof. dr. Yves Moreau, who is a full professor of engineering at KU Leuven. He was among the first to embrace this new discipline in Belgium and really put bioinformatics on the map in Belgian biomedical research. Furthermore, he is internationally recognized for his pioneering role in this line of research.

Prof. dr. Yves Moreau and his team received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2015 Bioinformatics for their development of new computational methods for data analysis and integration in rare genetic disorders. This ground-breaking research project represents a significant breakthrough in the field of genomic data analysis, has high potential for future use in drug development and understanding pathogenesis, bringing us one step closer to identifying the underlying causes of several rare genetic diseases.

Prof. dr. Yves Moreau

Prof. Dr. Hans Wildiers

Prof. dr. Wim Janssens

KU LEUVEN

Respiratory Diseases Award

€25,000

“Vitamin D and COPD”

Vitamin D is an important hormone that is produced in the skin when exposed to the sun, but it can also be ingested via food. A lack of vitamin D is often associated with bone resorption. However, recent studies also establish clear links between this deficiency and chronic diseases, such as cancer, system disorders, infections and cardiovascular diseases. Apparently, all diseases in which vitamin D plays an important role.

For this year’s Respiratory Diseases Award, the jury has decided to award Prof. dr. Wim Janssens for his findings on the important role Vitamin D can play in the battle against COPD.

The research of Prof. dr. Janssens revealed that vitamin D deficiency also occurs frequently in COPD and even correlates with the severity of COPD. Moreover, COPD patients who follow a training program heal faster thanks to the favourable effect of this vitamin on the muscles. Prof. dr. Janssens currently is an Associate Professor and Head of Laboratory Respiratory Medicine at KU Leuven as well as Senior clinical investigator at the Flemish Research Funds (FWO).

Prof. Dr. Wim Janssens

Prof. Dr. Mo Lamkanfi

Prof. dr. Massimiliano Mazzone

KU LEUVEN / VIB Group Leader

Oncology Award

€25,000

“Novel insights into the function of MET-proto-oncogene might lead to optimizing cancer treatment”

The jury decided to grant the 2015 AstraZeneca Foundation award for Oncology to Prof. dr. Massimiliano Mazzone (Full Professor KU Leuven / VIB Group Leader) for his research on MET for the recruitment of anti-tumoral neutrophils.

Mutations or amplification of the MET proto-oncogene are involved in the pathogenesis of several tumors and therefore represent an interesting therapeutic target currently tested in dozens of clinical trials. However, the study of Mazzone and his team has shown that MET is needed for the recruitment of anti-tumoral neutrophils and puts a mechanism into action that promotes the killing of cancer cells. This means that the efficacy of a cancer therapy targeting MET in cancer cells will partly be countered by the pro-tumoral effect arising from MET blockade in neutrophils.

Altogether, Prof. dr. Mazzone presents an innovative line of research with a lot of potential for future work in the understanding of cancer, which will lead to the optimization of currently tested therapies.

Prof. dr. Massimiliano Mazzone

Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen

Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen

ULG

Neurosciences/Psychiatry Award

25 000€

“Deciphering the cellular and molecular bases of human polymicrogyria”

The cerebral cortex corresponds to the external part of the brain and it plays key roles in sophisticated cognitive and perceptual abilities such as memory, awareness, language, and consciousness. The mature cerebral cortex is a layered structure resulting from the migration of temporal cohorts of neurons that are generated by cortical stem cells that divide during embryogenesis. Disrupting the birth, migration or survival of these neurons can lead to cortical malformations (MCDs) often associated with intellectual disabilities and epilepsy.

Prof. Dr. Laurent Nguyen (ULG) received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2014 in the research category Neurosciences and Psychiatry for the research on the pathological mechanisms triggered by the mutation of new genes associated with honopolymicrogyria. This research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive corticogenesis in health and disease. Current, additional research focuses on selected inheritable mutations that are tightly associated with polymicrogyria (PMGs), one prevalent MCD characterized by abnormal cortical layering with an excessive number of small and irregular gyri at the cortical surface. Various technical approaches and animal models will be combined to decipher the pathological mechanisms that underlie human PMGs. The identification of novel genes whose mutation lead to PMG is not only important for diagnosis and genetic counselling of patients and their families, but also for a better understanding of the molecular processes of cerebral cortical development.

Professor Laurent Nguyen

NS Approval ID 1009870 Revision date 09/2016