ULB welcomes "Marie Curie" researchers

Patricia Bonnavion, Laboratory of Neurophysiology, Faculty of Medicine

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) are now one of the most common psychiatric disorders among children. Those affected experience chronic difficulties with staying focused, but also with controlling their movements (motor hyperactivity), behaviour (impulsivity), and sometimes emotions (emotional hyperreactivity). The first step in treating ADHD is behavioural therapy; however, medication using psychostimulants is very often used. While this form of treatment may considerably reduce ADHD symptoms, they also have an effect on children who are treated while in school, and could potentially result in addictive or psychotic disorders in the longer term. Such impacts, and the absence of therapeutic alternatives, highlight the urgent need to better identify the causes of this pathology, how it affects the brain, and how psychostimulants work — as this is still largely unknown at this point.

The ADHD-Lightup project, led by Patricia Bonnavion, a member of Dr Alban de Kerchove d’Exaerde's research team in Professor Serge Schiffmann's Laboratory of Neurophysiology, combines optogenetics, neural activity recording, and behaviour analysis. The project's goal is to assess the role of certain neurons that could be causing cardinal symptoms of ADHD, and treat these symptoms by adapting these neurons' activity, based on models of ADHD mice.

Mathieu Bourguignon, Faculty of Psychology and Education

Dyslexia is a developmental disorder that affects 5 to 12% of children and young adults. Those affected by this language disorder have specific difficulties that are not related to vision problems or low intelligence. Most have trouble perceiving the sounds involved in speech, especially in a noisy environment.

The goal of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘DYSTRACK’ project, led by Mathieu Bourguignon, is to better understand the processes involved in treating oral comprehension against a noisy background, in order to develop new methods to identify dyslexia and treat it at a lower cost. Mathieu Bourguignon will join the team of Jacqueline Leybaert (CRCN, ULB Neuroscience Institute) and Xavier De Tiège (LCFC, ULB Neuroscience Institute, Faculty of Medicine). He will place children in environments with varying levels of background noise and visual stimuli, and determine to what extent their cortical activity can predict their reading ability. This will be made possible with magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings, a technique only available in Hôpital Erasme in Belgium, and using cutting edge signal analysis processes.

The team will also attempt to determine whether neurofeedback can help participants get into a mental state conducive to speech therapy. The experiments will be conducted on adults first, then similar experiments will be extended to children if the results are promising.

Eduardo Castello, Brussels School of Engineering

Autonomous robots will soon be part of our everyday lives. Large groups, or swarms, of robots, will carry out all sorts of tasks, often cooperating with humans. This means we must think carefully about how to program these robots in such a way that they can be trusted. In other words, we must ensure that robots fulfil their role and that any harmful behaviours can be easily identified, or prevented entirely.

As a part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘BROS‘ project, Eduardo Castello will join the teams of Marco Dorigo (IRIDIA) and Alex Pentland (MIT Media Lab), where he will take part in developing robotic systems whose behaviour can be certified using the Blockchain technology. The basic concept is to use ‘smart contracts’, one of this technology's most innovative tools, in order to manage interactions between robots and look at how they these smart contracts can produce ‘safe’ robotic systems. The BROS project, which will last three years, will be carried out in close collaboration with cryptography and cryptocurrency experts from the MIT Media Lab and experts on swarm robotics from the IRIDIA laboratory.

María José Estarán Tolosa, ULB Diabetes Research Centre, Faculty of Letters, Translation and Communication

The characteristics of the epigraphic cultures of Ancient Europe are defined on the basis not just of indigenous creations, but also of transfers and local adaptations. Before the Roman conquest and ensuing domination gave way to a new and more centralised cultural context, various peoples had already developed their own identity codes through reworking imported concepts and objects. The aim of the ARD-West (Ancient Religious Dedications in the Western Mediterranean Basin) project is to identify these creation processes in the written expression of European peoples on the basis of an epigraphic, historical and linguistic study of their religious dedications.

Juan Jonas, Faculty of Medicine

The incidence of type 1 diabetes (T1D) is increasing at an alarming rate in all populations. T1D is an autoimmune disease in which environmental factors interact with predisposition genes to trigger an immune system attack on the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.

The BETA-SPLICENET project is focused on studying the role of alternative splicing in beta cells and its contribution to the development of T1D. Alternative splicing is a gene regulation process based on the splicing of small pieces of RNA that can be combined in different ways to generate proteins with divergent structures and functions. This project combines high-throughput RNA sequencing and bioinformatics with molecular biology techniques to identify splicing variants usable as T1D biomarkers or as new therapeutic targets.

Deborah Gatti, Faculty of Pharmacy

Gamma delta (GT) T lymphocytes are peculiar in that they can fight infectious agents during the fetal stage of human development. The team led by David Vermijlen (department of pharmacotherapy and galenic pharmacy) has also found that some of these lymphocytes, which express the Vg8Vd1 receptor, also react to cancer cells.

These Vg8Vd1 GD T cells are present in all individuals, could therefore be of interest when studying the development of cancer immunotherapies. However, one of the conditions for this is to determine what stimulates these cells. This is the goal of the new Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘GD TCR Ligand’ project, led by Deborah Gatti: finding the ligand for the Vg8Vd1 receptor, in order to better understand the role and functioning of GC lymphocytes and might trigger an anti-cancer reaction.

Ov Cristian Norocel, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences

The European crisis has enabled radical right-wing populist parties to consolidate their presence on the EU's political landscape. These parties often base their positions on the concept of the ‘other’, a generic and vaguely-defined group that includes migrants, ethnic minorities, radical groups, or any person with an alternative lifestyle. This distinction is brought up especially during debates on social security, with certain populist parties suggesting that these ‘others’ should have different rights from natives.

This concept of ‘other’, however, is seldom mentioned in studies on populism and welfare. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie ‘INWELCHAV’ project intends to provide insight into this conceptual distinction. Joining the team of David Paternotte (from the workshop on gender and sexuality, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences / STRIGES, ULB Institute for Human Sciences), Ov Cristian Norocel will explore and examine the (de)construction of cultural identity and the issue of national belonging through the discourse of radical populist right-wing parties.

The researcher will focus mainly on 3 cases: the Finns Party (FP or PS), the Greater Romania Party (GRP), and the Swedish Democrats (SD). He will also look at how issues related to national identity and welfare in these three countries are approached in their respective parliaments, as well as in the context of the EU, especially in the European Parliament.

Massimo Taronna, Faculty of Sciences

Massimo Taronna has been a researcher at the department of theoretical and mathematical physics, led by Marc Henneaux, since 2015. He was just awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie EU scholarship, which will let him spend two years at Princeton (USA) before returning to Brussels for one year.

His research studies the fundamental forces of nature (electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear forces, gravitation), aiming in particular at understanding how to develop a consistent quantum theory of gravitation: this is one of today's main challenges in physics. For his TcCFT project, he follows an approach based on string theory and on higher-spin gauge field theories. Using holographic correspondence, Massimo Taronna will shed new light on the problem of coherent interaction and of locality in higher-spin gauge field theories, which are crucial topics for the development of an adequate physics theory.