VUB Hematology and UZ Brussel win prizes

The Hematology-Immunology research group at VUB and the Hematology department UZ Brussel have received three awards for their research into better treatment of blood cancer. First, for a possible improved therapy for treating multiple myeloma. Second, for a less burdensome follow-up of blood cancer patients. And third, for a tastier low-bacteria diet. The awards were presented during the annual conference of the Belgian Hematology Society (BHS).

The prizes were awarded to researchers and staff of the HEIM research group (VUB) and the UZ Brussel Hematology department at the 37th BHS congress on 4 and 5 February. Two were awarded to young PhD students, MSc Catharina Muylaert and Dr Wouter De Brouwer, who presented their work as a poster and oral presentation respectively.

Biomedical engineer Muylaert’s work is part of a research project investigating the potential of the enzyme DNA methyltransferase 3B (DNMT3B) as a new therapeutic target for the treatment of multiple myeloma. This is a plasma cell cancer that remains incurable because the cancer cells eventually become resistant to all existing therapies. The results presented by Muylaert at the congress show that the specific DNMT3B inhibitor Nanaomycin A strongly reduces the growth and survival of the cancer cells and makes them much more sensitive to existing therapies. The research is being conducted under the supervision of Professors Elke De Bruyne and Karin Vanderkerken, head of the HEIM research group.

Less stressful follow-up of blood cancer patients Haematologist in training De Brouwer has conducted research that may make it less onerous to follow up blood cancer patients. Better treatment of blood cancer implies not only the development of new molecules and therapies but also accurate disease follow-up to better evaluate the effect of therapy and more quickly adjust the therapy, if necessary. In multiple myeloma patients, recent research has shown that the presence of very small numbers of tumour cells in bone marrow after treatment can lead to a less favourable prognosis. To follow up the patient properly and to detect these tumour cells with high sensitivity, bone marrow samples must be taken, which is often an unpleasant or painful procedure for the patient.

De Brouwer’s research results indicate that accurate disease monitoring is also possible by using liquid biopsies - blood samples from which circulating tumour cells are isolated in advance. After isolating the DNA from these cells, the presence of tumour cells can be demonstrated via a molecular technique known as next generation sequencing, even in patients without other detectable tumour markers. This doctoral research is being conducted under the supervision of Professors Ivan Van Riet, Marleen Bakkus and Rik Schots, head of the Hematology department at UZ Brussel.

World cuisine for cancer patients An important element in the care of cancer patients, especially after a stem cell transplant, is nutrition. During the most recent BHS congress, UZ Brussel pharmacist Sarah Deuss received the PAtient CEntricity (PACE) award with medical head of stem cell transplantation Dr Ann De Becker. This award is given to multidisciplinary projects that aim to optimise the care of patients with haematological disorders. After stem cell transplantation, a low-bacteria diet is prescribed as one of the measures to prevent infections in patients with a severely weakened immune system. This has a major impact on the possible variation in diet in patients who often already have altered or reduced tastes and appetites. Moreover, in addition to traditional Belgian cuisine, there are also many influences from world cuisines, and patients from many cultural backgrounds are treated at UZ Brussel. The aim of the project is to examine the guidelines on low-bacteria nutrition and their application in various centres. Subsequently, to help the patient and their caregivers with implementing this diet, the project will create a cookbook with recipes adapted to world cuisine. It will therefore involve close collaboration between transplant physicians and nurses, transplant pharmacists, dieticians and the patients themselves.

The recognition of these research and clinical projects means an extra motivation for the entire haematology group, at both VUB and UZ Brussel, to continue to strive for better treatment and medical care of blood cancer patients.

About UZ Brussel UZ Brussel (University Hospital Brussels) has a staff of more than 3,800 employees. It is attached to the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on the Brussels Health Campus in Jette. With 721 hospital beds, it accounts for 30,779 admissions of patients each year from Belgium and abroad, 412,246 consultations (emergencies not included) and 78,840 patients at the emergency care. Its philosophy is founded on three principles: Dutch-speaking, pluralist and social. As a university hospital, it also has a teaching mission and conducts scientific research.

Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig - The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People , because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership , VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré , the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ’urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.

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