Immunology

Faced with a pathogen - whether a virus, a bacterium, a fungus or a physical agent - the body defends itself by mobilising the immune system. In certain cases however, this defence fails and the parasite is able to outwit the immune system response. In other cases, the defence system goes out of control (as in the case of allergies), or leads to undesirable effects (autoimmune diseases, rejection of grafts).

An in-depth understanding of the way the immune system functions is thus essential in a large number of fields in the health and public health sectors. For several decades now, the use of vaccines has enabled a significant reduction in the impact of several infectious diseases, with certain diseases even being eradicated. Others remain however resistant, especially those affecting less-developed countries, and there is still a great amount of work needing to be done in this field.

The mobilisation of immune responses is also a priority field of research in cancer treatment: gaining a better understanding of the interaction between the immune system and cancer cells is expected to allow the development of strategies helping the organism to better defend itself against the tumour.

ULB teams are focusing on clinical research (vaccinology, viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, immuno-deficiencies in early childhood), on regulating immune responses (transplantations, cell therapies, cancer-related immunotherapy), and on innate immunity and inflammation.

With the support of Wallonia and the European Union, the ULB has developed a scientific and industrial campus in Charleroi, focused on immunology and cooperating closely with the teaching hospital and other hospitals in its network. With its Centre for Microscopy and Molecular Imaging (CMMI), the campus has at its disposal a unique set of preclinical imaging equipment covering all technologies, from a molecular scale to that of a whole animal, as well as advanced animal housing for mice with "humanised" immune systems. This campus, the Biopark Charleroi Brussels South, is in itself an ecosystem where academic research (both fundamental and applied) teams up with major pharmaceutical companies and a large number of highly specialised and very innovative small companies and university spin-offs.

Main research projects (since 2010)

Actions de recherche concertée, ARC

Interuniversity Attraction Pole, IAP

Regional projects (> 500 Keuros)

  • Cellular functions and medical applications of apolipoproteins (Région wallonne - WELBIO)

  • NEOVAC: Immunologie néonatale (Région wallonne)

  • ADJUMEC: adjuvants vaccinaux (Région wallonne)

  • GPCR-LIKE - Développement de GPCRs-like comme source antigénique d'anticorps monoclonaux agissant comme modulateurs allostériques

  • ALLERGIE: Adjuvants vaccinaux - Immunologie Néonatales - Médecine de transplantation - Biomarqueurs Immunologiques

Projects supported by the FNRS (> 500 Keuros)

  • Métabolisme des ARNs messagers porteurs de séquences ARE: caractérisation biochimique et spatio-temporelle des mécanismes régulant leur stabilité et leur traduction

Main prizes and international recognition (since 1970)

  • Michel Goldman, FNRS quinquennial prize 1996

  • Etienne Pays, Francqui Prize 1996 (parasitology) ; FNRS quinquennial prize 1996-2000

  • Jacques Urbain, Francqui Prize 1987 (immunology)