VUB researchers design medicine of the future

VUB researchers design medicine of the future

The success rates in securing European funding demonstrate that the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is committed to research and innovation. What’s more, biomedical technologies developed at the VUB are already leading to new drugs. Two leading researchers have now secured ongoing funding for their groundbreaking research as part of the Flemish government’s Methusalem programme.

Prof Dr Thierry VandenDriessche of the Division of Gene Therapy and Regenerative Medicine at VUB is an authority in the field of gene therapy. Human DNA consists of 3 billion chemical letters that make up our genes. Hereditary diseases are caused by chemical “typos” in our DNA that threaten patients’ quality of life. Hereditary muscle diseases, such as Pompe disease and muscular dystrophy, lead to progressive deterioration of the muscles and heart, significantly reducing life expectancy. Existing treatments are inadequate and do not offer a sustainable solution.

“Building on more than 30 years of research experience in gene therapy, we aim to develop a new strategy to effectively cure life-threatening inherited muscle diseases,” says VandenDriessche. “We want to address the root cause of the problem. By effectively and safely transporting functional copies of healthy genes to the muscles and heart, we can reverse the disastrous effects of these diseases.” The goal is to develop a sustainable solution that not only improves patients’ quality of life but can alleviate the socio-economic burden on society. This innovative strategy can be widely used to treat other inherited muscle diseases, positively impacting the fight against disease and suffering.

Prof Dr Jan Steyaert, director of the VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology, is an expert in nanobody technology and takes a different approach. “Nanobodies, also called camelid antibodies, were discovered in our laboratories 30 years ago by Raymond Hamers. Subsequent work by me and many others at the VUB is at the basis of a global revolution, in which conventional antibodies used in research and medicine are systematically giving way to nanobodies,” he says. “As the icing on the cake of my career, I want to work with my team to develop new applications in immunotherapy and permanently anchor the nanobody legacy in our alma mater. Specifically, we aim to develop drugs inspired by the natural function of the immune system to treat patients more effectively and with fewer side effects.” He also wants to establish a pharmaceutical company based on these insights. “We are bringing together all the nanobody expertise developed over the past 30 years and will share it with the scientific community from next year via a global knowledge base called NanoSaurus.”


The researchers have been awarded €2.1 million each for their projects from the Flemish government, for a term of seven years.


Thierry VandenDriessche:

Jan Steyaert:

Koen Stein
Koen Stein Perscontact wetenschap & innovatie




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