3 WELBIO projects at the Biopark

June 26th 2018

WELBIO's mission is to support strategic fundamental research and to promote discoveries made by research teams for industrial applications, in all branches of biotechnologies. At the end of 2017, WELBIO announced the results of its 4th call for projects: ULB researchers were awarded 6 of the 14 projects, which totalled 43% of the funds that WELBIO awarded to universities. Three of these six projects will be carried out by researchers from the Biopark!

Bypassing the blood-brain barrier

Benoît Vanhollebeke (neurovascular signalling laboratory (1) ) has received a ‘Starting’ grant that he will use to decrypt the mechanisms by which the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is regulated. This barrier prevents harmful elements present in blood from entering the brain: this is an essential mechanism to fight pathogens, however it also filters helpful drugs. Finding a mechanism to bypass or disrupt the BBB would therefore be highly useful in treating neurological diseases such as brain cancers, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases, and multiple sclerosis.

Bacterial persistence, a public health issue

Abel Garcia-Pino (cellular and molecular microbiology laboratory) has also received a ‘Starting’ grant. He studies bacterial persistence, a phenomenon where bacteria that are subjected to stress (e.g. antibiotics) can enter a dormant state. They can then survive and once again colonise their environment once the threat is gone. This means bacterial persistence is an important determiner of antibiotic tolerance, and as such a major public health risk. For this project, Abel Garcia-Pino and his colleagues will study the ‘alarm’ molecule ppGpp and the various stress response mechanisms that push bacterial cells towards persistance.

Does ammonuim play a role in cell proliferation?

Anna Maria Marini (membrane transport biology laboratory) has received an ‘Advanced’ grant. She will study the role of ammonium in various organisms: sophisticated mechanisms have appeared during our evolution, in order to efficiently capture this valuable source of nitrogen while also avoiding accumulating this toxic compound.

These mechanisms include the Amt/Mep/Rh proteins: these are related to the rhesus proteins present in our blood, and they allow ammonium to be transported across the cell membrane. The WELBIO project studies how the cell's permeability to ammonium influences cell proliferation. Researchers believe that by controlling the activity of certain Rh proteins, they could correct dysfunctions that occur in the biological processes involved in metabolising ammonium, regulating the blood's pH, or communication between cells.

(1) The laboratory is part of the IBMM's department of molecular biology, like the two other research units mentioned in this article.