Towards stronger translational research

February 26th 2019

In March, a dozen researchers from the Institute for Medical Immunology (IMI) will join the Hôpital Erasme campus with a mission: reinforce the relationship between fundamental and clinical research. We have met with Professor Arnaud Marchant, head of the IMI.

Why transfer part of the IMI's research activities from Gosselies to Brussels?
Arnaud Marchant: ‘Translational research means creating and consolidating links between fundamental research and clinical research. The two approaches are increasingly close, especially in the field of immunology. By moving some of the IMI's activity and staff to the Anderlecht campus(1), we are seeking to reinforce existing links and create new collaborations with the network's laboratories and clinicians: Hôpital Erasme, of course, but also the Jules Bordet institute and the Saint-Pierre university hospital. The relocation will create fresh opportunities. Researchers and clinicians will be able to communicate more, and research will be easier to organise.
Being present in both Gosselies and Brussels also helps the IMI strengthen the links between the two campuses.’

Which IMI researchers will relocate?
‘Mainly researchers working on the immunology of infectious diseases and vaccines, as well as on cancer immunology and immunotherapy. These areas offer a good illustration of the feedback loop between fundamental research and clinical research. And the relationships are not one-sided: for instance, clinical research has confirmed the effectiveness of antibodies that neutralise inhibiting receptors in certain types of cancer. However, patients do not all respond to these immunotherapies. Why? This question was “sent back” to fundamental research, and is being investigated.
This also happened with certain infectious diseases (flu, tuberculosis, cytomegalovirus and HIV infections, etc.). Vaccine studies are less and less empirical and increasingly systematic, with fundamental researchers working hand in hand with clinicians to develop the vaccines of tomorrow.
We are excited to start working on the Hôpital Erasme campus! The teams working there on infectious diseases and oncology always give us a great welcome.’

What is the role of the interfaculty institute of immunology in this initiative?
‘ULB's interfaculty institute of immunology—which gathers researchers from the faculties of medicine, sciences, and pharmacy—is the ideal environment to develop translational research. Of course, the idea of bringing together fundamental and clinical research is not a new one, and similar initiatives have been set up in the past. Still, the modern challenges of vaccinology and the recent success of immunotherapy in the fight against cancer further encourage the creation of integrated structures and tighter collaborations. After all, our ultimate goal is the same: better understand diseases in order to eventually better treat patients.’

(1) Researchers from the IMI will set up shop in building G/E on the Anderlecht campus.