CRIG 'young investigator proof-of-concept projects’: laureates 12th call


In collaboration with vzw Kinderkankerfonds, CRIG provides research grants for young (postdoctoral) cancer researchers at CRIG to initiate potentially high-risk and innovative cancer research projects. In this 12th call, following postdocs were awarded, and will start their project in October.

  • Dr. Renée Bultijnck‘A patient-reported outcome eHealth system in men with metastatic prostate cancer: A qualitative pilot study’ (promotor of the grant: Prof. Piet Ost) - Recent drug improvements for men with metastatic prostate cancer can potentially improve survival and as such, efforts should be attempted to also improve their health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Capturing HRQoL by collecting data via patient-reported outcome measures (PROMS) is an important method to describe the experience of patients. Despite the importance of these patient experiences in shared decision-making and patient empowerment, PROMS are not yet used in daily practice, mostly because of implementation issues. Therefore, in this project, Renée will test the feasibility of an eHealth PRO system, enabling to question PROMS remotely instead of in the clinic.
  • Dr. Louis Delhaye‘Mapping and disrupting RNA-protein interactions for the neuroblastoma-specific lncRNA NESPR’ (promotor of the grant: Prof. Pieter Mestdagh) - An increasing number of studies support the involvement of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) in cancer. Targeting lncRNAs is an appealing opportunity as lncRNA expression can be highly tissue-specific, potentially reducing toxic side-effects in normal cells. The lncRNA NESPR for example is specifically expressed in the adrenergic subtype of neuroblastoma tumors. In the project proposed here, Louis wants to map the interaction interfaces between NESPR and its protein interaction partners and use this information to develop novel therapeutic modalities that can sterically block these interactions and therefore NESPR function.
  • Dr. Sander Lefere‘Maternal obesity and offspring fatty liver disease: fuel for liver cancer?’ (promotor of the grant: Prof. Hans Van Vlierberghe) - Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third-leading cause of cancer-related death, and is unique because it typically develops on a background of advanced liver disease. Due to the dramatic rise in obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now the most common liver disease worldwide, and will become the main cause of HCC. Studies have shown that maternal obesity increases the risk of NAFLD in children, therefore we hypothesize that maternal obesity will also accelerate the development of offspring HCC, at a considerably younger age. In this project, Sander will test this hypothesis in two novel complementary and representative mouse models.  
  • Dr. Lien Lippens – ‘Optimizing a one-step workflow for sensitive and fast analysis of circulating bacterial extracellular vesicles’ (promotor of the grant: Prof. An Hendrix) - Recently, the lab of Prof. An Hendrix has shown that bacterial extracellular vesicles (BEVs) are present in the systemic circulation of cancer patients with impaired intestinal barrier integrity, and have the potential to deliver and elicit a variety of immunological and metabolic responses in the host’s organs. Insights in BEV derived from blood plasma samples of cancer patients can improve our understanding of the role of BEV in host and bacteria interaction in cancer and open novel biomarker opportunities. The complexity of blood plasma samples and the relative low abundance of BEV however impose considerable challenges on BEV analysis. Therefore, Lien wants to develop a new workflow for sensitive and fast analysis of these BEVs, based on the use of metal-isotope-tagged antibodies.
  • Dr. Lien Van Hoecke ‘Anti-FOLR1 VHHs as tool for brain tumor imaging and targeting of therapeutics’ (promotor of the grant: Prof. Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke & Prof. Pieter Van Vlierberghe) - Reaching the brain with imaging agents and therapeutics is extremely challenging due to the presence of strict brain barriers. Recently, the lab of Prof. Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke identified an anti-folate receptor 1 (FOLR1) nanobody with brain targeting capacity. As proliferating tissues such as tumors typically show high FOLR1 expression due to their increased folate requirement, this nanobody might have clinical potential in the imaging and treatment of certain types of brain tumors. In her project, Lien will investigate this hypothesis.
  • Dr. Maaike Van Trimpont‘Evaluating the use of peptide-based hydrogels for the stabilization and slow release of the antileukemic enzyme L-asparaginase (L-ASNase)’ (promotor of the grant: Prof. Steven Goossens) - Systemic administration of L-ASNase is successfully used to lower the bioavailability of asparagine to eradicate rapidly proliferating cancer cells with a high demand for this amino acid. Currently, it is a cornerstone drug in the treatment of the most common pediatric cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). However, the administration of L-ASNase enzymes remains suboptimal due to several factors, including their short half-life. In this project, Maaike will evaluate an alternative administration route.