Funding for research into liver disease and separation techniques for molecules

The Flemish government’s Methusalem programme  offers top researchers long-term structural funding, making them less dependent on external, project-based financing. It is one of the most prestigious types of funding in Flanders. This year, two researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel will receive this support: Prof Mathieu Vinken and Prof Gert Desmet. They each receive €300,000 a year for seven years, renewable until retirement.

Gert Desmet

Prof Gert Desmet is a chemical engineer and heads the Chemical Engineering research group. His research focus is liquid chromatography, the separation of molecules. This is a technology with widespread applications in pharmaceutical research, environmental analysis, quality control in the food and chemical industries, etc. However, there are still many fields of application where the possibilities of modern chromatography tools and methods are still insufficient.

“How fast and smart can chromatography ultimately be made?” is the generic question around which BruChrom, the research of Desmet and his team, revolves. BruChrom combines thorough fundamental research with innovative research methods, materials and equipment. It is organised into five parallel lines of research, each with one or more pioneering objectives, from performing chromatographic separations at the 20 nanometre scale to introducing reinforcement learning to create the blueprint for a fully “self-propelled” chromatography tool.

Desmet: “The Methusalem funds will mainly be used as venture capital, with which we want to achieve a multiplier effect by acquiring external research funds. We will also support talented post-doctoral researchers in the preparation of their own research grant applications. And we plan to set up the Brussels Chromatography Centre (BCC), a portal organisation that will be able to offer all our research knowledge and opportunities to interested academic and industrial research partners.”

Mathieu Vinken

Prof Mathieu Vinken is a pharmacist-toxicologist specialising in liver research. He investigates the communication of the cells in our body via chemical signals sent through channels. In the case of cellular communication, when this goes wrong it usually results in disease. Vinken’s team within the Department of Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences investigates the clinical relevance of this concept in various acute and chronic liver diseases. In addition to fundamental research into such cellular mechanisms, new substances that may influence cellular communication are also being tested as potential new drugs to treat liver disease. Vinken’s team investigates the toxicological relevance of this concept, specifically whether the ability of chemicals to disrupt communication between liver cells is a way to predict and thus prevent liver damage.

Vinken: “The research that will be supported with Methusalem funding opens promising prospects for the large group of patients suffering from liver disease, which is at the root of the fifth most common cause of death worldwide.”