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

 

On December 12th, the AstraZeneca Foundation, the Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Vlaanderen (FWO) and the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S. - FNRS) unveiled during their yearly Awards Ceremony the names of the winners of the AstraZeneca Foundation Awards 2016. Three scientific prizes have been awarded this year, in three different disciplines: bioinformatics, oncology and cardiovascular/metabolic disorders. This year's winners are Prof Stein Aerts, Prof Pierre Sonveaux, and Prof Anne-Catherine Pouleur. These three Professors have been successful for their innovative research and will each be rewarded by a cheque of €25,000.

Prod Dr Aerts receives the Scientific Prize for his research on the understanding of complex DNA codes, which will contribute in the future to block the development of cancer, Prof Dr Sonveaux won the Scientific Prize for his research on the prevention of cancer metastases, and Prof Dr Pouleur is successful for her research on heart failure. As every year, the three winners were selected by an independent jury composed of the FWO and the F.R.S. - FNRS.

Prof. Dr. Stein Aerts

Prof. Dr. Stein Aerts

KU Leuven / VIB

Bioinformatics Award

€25,000

“The regulation of gene transcription paves the way for new therapies”

Prof Dr Aerts and his team received the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2016 in Bioinformatics. The results of their research are a promising step forward towards the decipherment of the 'DNA regulatory code'. New techniques developed in their study will be used in the future to decrypt even more complex codes and list more DNA switches. This study also allows to open a path to future therapies that will be able to intervene directly on the DNA switches and therefore inhibit the development of cancer.

Prof Dr Stein Aerts is associate professor at VIB Group Leader and Laboratory of Computational Biology at KU Leuven. He and his team use bioinformatics to decode normal and cancer-related regulatory landscapes. His work has broad relevance because understanding the regulatory logic encoded in the non-coding genome is one of the key challenges in biomedical sciences today. The non-coding genome encompasses more than 98% of our genome and houses all the information of when and where which genes are expressed. Therefore, the regulatory genome implements and controls cellular fate during developmental programs and maintenance of cellular identity throughout our body. Not surprisingly, perturbations of the genomic control mechanisms often lead to diseases, including cancer.

Prof. Dr. Stein Aerts

Prof. Dr. Pierre Sonveaux

Prof. Dr. Pierre Sonveaux

UCL Louvain

Oncology Award

€25,000

“Metabolic targeting for the prevention of metastasis”

According to Prof Dr Sonveaux and his team, cancers can be considered as metabolic diseases. Cancer cells adapt in fact continuously and evolve to be able to grow and survive. In their study, the scientists checked how metabolism of tumors had an impact on the spread of metastasis.

Prof Dr Sonveaux and his team won the AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2016 Oncology, given that their study has demonstrated that precise metabolic targeting can inhibit the metabolic collaboration, angiogenesis, local invasion and metastasis, while preserving the healthy cells in the body. "Thanks to the discovery of the fact that waste in cells give rise to metastasis, we are able to develop effective treatment to fight against this disease and we hope to quickly find partnerships with pharmaceutical companies in order to start the trials," says Prof. Dr. Sonveaux.

Prof. Dr. Pierre Sonveaux

Prof. Dr. Anne-Catherine Pouleur

Prof. Dr. Anne-Catherine Pouleur

UCL St-Luc

Cardiovascular/metabolic disorders Award

€25,000

A possible outlook on a treatment for heart failure?

Heart failure is a progressive disorder that affects 23 million people worldwide.
Heart failure is predominantly a disease of the elderly, with over 80% of heart failure hopitalizations occuring in persons over 65 years of age. Up to half of heart failure eases occur in the setting of preserved left ventricular ejection fraction (HFpEF), a syndrome for which there are currently no proven therapies.

Prof Dr Pouleur and her team had set three priorities in this study. First, they wanted to map the different cardial structures, functions and fibrosis. Secondly, they wanted to investigate how factors, such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity interacted with the factor ‘high age', as the latter substantially increases the risk of heart failure. Finally, Prof Dr Pouleur and her colleagues examined the factors that would increase the risk of diastolic heart failure through investigating and analysing hospitalizations and specific deaths.

"The knowledge we have gained will lead to the development of new treatments for heart failure, a condition that affects still too many people right now," concludes Prof Dr Pouleur.

The AstraZeneca Foundation Award 2016 for cardiovascular/metabolic disorders is therefore assigned this year.

Prof. Dr. Anne-Catherine Pouleur

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 954614 Revision date 02/2016