Awards ceremony

Best Poster Research Day

Announcement by representatives of the student councils StuGG, StuFF and VDK.

PhD Thesis Prize AY 2018-2019 of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

Announcement of the laureates by prof. Piet Hoebeke, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

1st Laureate (ex aeqou): dr. Sarah Raevens - Advances in the approach to pulmonary vascular complications of liver disease

Liver disease and portal hypertension can be complicated by pulmonary vascular disease, which may affect prognosis and influence liver transplantation candidacy. Pulmonary vascular complications comprise hepatopulmonary syndrome (HPS), which is characterized by gas exchange abnormalities due to pulmonary vasodilations, and portopulmonary hypertension (POPH), which is defined by pulmonary arterial hypertension that may lead to hemodynamic failure. Even though HPS and POPH may have a substantial negative impact on survival, both entities are clinically underrecognized and frequently misdiagnosed. The aim of this PhD thesis was to address clinical challenges in the diagnostic and therapeutic approach to these liver-induced pulmonary vascular disorders. For HPS, potential biomarkers have been explored, a new mouse model has been validated, and the placental growth factor has been identified as an important contributor to the development of the disease. For POPH, our current screening algorithm in liver transplantation candidates has been optimized, and the effectiveness of oral vasomodulators has been studied as therapeutic option and potential bridge to transplantation.

Promotors: prof. Isabelle Colle and prof. Anja Geerts

1st Laureate (ex aeqou): dr. Nora Sundahl - Boosting anticancer immunity with radiotherapy

Immunotherapy meant a breakthrough in patients with spread cancer. Unfortunately, the majority of patients do not respond to this treatment, and hence have limited survival. By adding radiation to immunotherapy, it is thought that more patients might respond to treatment and live longer. Our research investigated this combination treatment in people with bladder cancer or melanoma that has spread throughout the body. We established that both treatments can be safely combined and suggests that the combination treatment might work better than immunotherapy alone.

Promotors: prof. Piet Ost, prof. Vibeke Kruse and prof. Karel Decaestecker

3rd Laureate: dr. Gaëlle Vanbutsele - Early integration of palliative care in oncology

The World Health Organisation stresses that palliative care is applicable early in the course of the illness, together with other therapies that are intended to prolong life. However, in routine clinical practice, specialised palliative care is often initiated late in the disease trajectory. By using quantitative survey methods and a randomized controlled trial, this dissertation gives insight into (1) the challenges in referral practices to specialised palliative care and (2) the benefits of early and systematic integration of palliative care in oncology for patients and their informal carers in the Belgian health care setting.

Promotors UGent: prof. Karen Geboes and prof. Simon Van Belle - Promotors VUB: prof. Koen Pardon and prof. Luc Deliens

PhD Thesis Prize AY 2018-2019 of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Announcement of the laureates by prof. Frank Gasthuys, Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Laureate best non-clinical PhD: dr. Jolien Van Cleemput - The horse’s respiratory mucosa, airborne pathogens and respirable hazards: the archetypical trifecta of co-evolution

Respiratory disease is one of the main clinical manifestations in horses and frequently results in poor performance, a high morbidity and in some cases even death. Equine herpesviruses (EHV) are among the major airborne pathogens in global horse industry. The aim of this thesis was to unravel the interplay between pathogen-specific, host-specific and environmental factors and how a misbalance between these factors might trigger the onset of respiratory disease. Here, we showed that during the long-term co-evolution of EHV with the horse, both parties developed several sophisticated strategies to out smarten one another. For instance, the respiratory epithelial cell intercellular network became a valuable piece of armor for the horse against EHV1. Still, EHV1 found ways to circumvent and even exploit this barrier for a specific viral exit strategy. Besides, respirable hazards such as Lysomucil®-nebulizing treatment, pollens and mycotoxins work in favor of EHV1 by increasing the risk of infection and subsequent spread. Second, EHV1 evolved mechanisms to resist and even exploit equine β-defensins, important antimicrobial peptides. Finally, evolution also granted EHV5 with several refined immune-evasion strategies to invade and persist in the horse population. Together, we state that the horse's respiratory mucosa, airborne pathogens and respirable hazards have constantly influenced one another during the long-term co-evolution of pathogens with their host and can therefore be considered as the "archetypical trifecta of co-evolution".

Promotor: prof. Hans Nauwynck

Laureate best clinical PhD: dr. Joke Rijckaert - Magnetic motor evoked potentials : a diagnostic test for spinal cord dysfunction in large

Spinal ataxia, caused by spinal cord disease, is a common neurological disease in horses and cattle. Clinical signs range from subtle to very obvious with recumbency in the worst case. Recumbency is life-threatening in large animals but also the most subtle signs have an important impact on a horses’ life, as for (optimal) jumping, dressage, eventing, racing,… performance, a perfect gait is required. Poor performance of equine athletes costs owners and trainers a lot of time and money. Therefore, a reliable diagnosis, also in mild cases, is absolutely necessary.
Mostly, diagnosis of spinal cord disease is based on a combination of patient history, neurological examination and diagnostic imaging, complemented with blood and cerebrospinal fluid analysis, whenever necessary. However, sensitivity and specificity of the different tests are rather low and they do not give information about the function of the spinal cord. Therefore, transcranial magnetic stimulation with recording of magnetic motor evoked potentials (TMS-MMEP) has been suggested as an alternative. Therefore, in this thesis the technique of TMS-MMEP is improved, the first steps are taken for more precise lesion localisation, and the accuracy of the diagnostic test for diagnosis of spinal cord disease in horses is determined. In conclusion, a diagnostic approach for evaluation of a possible neurological patient is suggested.

Promotors: dr. Bart Pardon, prof. Luc Van Ham and prof. Gunther van Loon

PhD Thesis Prize AY 2018-2019 of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Announcement of the laureate by prof. Jan Van Bocxlaer, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences

Laureate: dr. Simon Van Herck - Interactive Polymers for Innate Immune Activation

Cancer treatment has made tremendous steps forward in the last decade with the introduction of immunotherapy. Immunotherapy aims to modulate the interplay between the tumour and the immune system in favour of an anti-tumour immune response. A vast array of activity routes is currently under investigation or already in practise. Our research is aimed at re-activating dormant immune cells in the tumour microenvironment or boosting immune cells activity in lymphoid tissue in an anti-cancer vaccine setting. A very efficient triggering of immune cells can be achieved using agonists against Toll-like receptors (TLRs). TLRs are a specific set of receptors able to recognise bacterial or viral patterns leading to a cascade of immune activating signals. TLR4 and 7/8 are a well-studied receptor with small molecule agonists that have been discovered for both. The use of small molecules offers the advantage of in vitro stability, large scale production and access to chemical modification sites. Nevertheless, the often bear a highly unfavourable pharmacokinetic profile with systemic distribution and unwanted off-target effects. To cope with this problem, several classes of nanocarriers were designed during my PhD   research based on acid-degradable amphiphilic polymers. These polymers systems were designed as such to form stable nanoparticles that showed a very efficient accumulation inside the draining lymph node, thereby provoking highly localised innate immune activation.

Promotor: prof. Bruno G. De Geest