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2022 Pelican Grant: five doctoral students awarded

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Published on Friday, 08 April 2022

Susanne Gonder, Elisa Gomez De Lope, Kyriaki Barmpa, Andrea Scafidi, Catherine Delbrouck have recently been awarded the Pelican Grant from the Fondation du Pélican de Mie et Pierre Hippert-Faber. It is now 10 years that the grant is offered to students in support to their training and mobility activities in the context of their research projects.

For the 2022 Pelican Grant edition, five international students were awarded (from left to right): Catherine Delbrouck and Andrea Scafidi from the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), Elisa Gomez De Lope and Kyriaki Barmpa from the Luxembourg Centre for Systems of Biomedicine (LCSB), Susanne Gonder from the LIH.

What is your research project about?

Susanne: “With my research, I want to bring the focus on B lymphocytes as they play a dual role in the tumor microenvironment. B cells can either favor the cancer as regulatory B cells while suppressing the microenvironment, or they help in fighting the cancer as antigen-presenting cells and by producing highly effective antibodies against the malignant cells. Hence, I believe it is highly interesting to investigate the B lymphocyte in the context of cancer to advance immunotherapies. My PhD project focuses on the impact of one transcription factor in B lymphocytes in tumor-bearing mice”. 

Elisa: “My research project is based on the integrative development of machine learning (ML) methods applied to large scale omics data. In the context of Parkinson Disease, I am focused on the analysis of short time-series, using statistics to predict early signs of PD and prognosis in later stages of the disease”.

Kyriaki: “My PhD project focuses on the development of an aged in vitro model of the nigrostriatal pathway, widely affected in Parkinson’s disease (PD), to study the effect of aging on α-synuclein aggregation and spread. In PD, there is degeneration of dopaminergic neurons of the midbrain, depletion of dopamine in the striatum, and consequently impairments in the nigrostriatal pathway, which connects the midbrain and the striatum through dopaminergic projections.  We do not yet fully understand the causes of the dopaminergic neurodegeneration nor the consequent deregulation of the nigrostriatal pathway. Therefore, we aim of developing an advanced model that recapitulates the connectivity of the nigrostriatal pathway by creating assembloids of midbrain and striatum specific organoids”.

Andrea: “My project is about the role of myeloid cells in Glioblastoma (GBM), the most aggressive and common primary brain tumor. In particular, I am characterizing myeloid cells in the blood of GBM patients to relate specific subpopulations to prognosis and therapy efficacy. The second aim of my project is to modulate myeloid cells in order to improve their anti-tumoral functions”.

Catherine: “Working in the Cancer Metabolism Group supervised by Dr. Johannes Meiser at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), my research project focuses on the effect of formate on cancer cells. Formate is a metabolic product of the one-carbon metabolism. It has been shown by our group that its production rate exceeds the cellular formate needs which results in formate release by cancer cells. Moreover, we have identified that high formate levels promote cancer cell invasion. My Ph.D focuses on analysing the formate phenotype in different models and to study the mechanism of formate induced cancer cell invasion”.

What will you do with the grant?

Susanne: “EHA conference (European EHA conference (European Hematology Association). It is one of the biggest conferences about hematological malignancies, and the topic suits very well our research interest as we are focused on Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (a B cell malignancy)”. 

Elisa: “The pelican award will fund a research visit abroad to expand my knowledge on machine learning techniques applied to networks and graphs, which I will then apply to protein-protein interaction networks or gene regulatory networks in my project. It will also support my participation in conferences, where I will share and disseminate the findings and conclusions of my research”.

Kyriaki: “With the Pelican grant I intent to enrich my understanding on aging and development by attending the EMBO workshop in “Developmental circuits in aging”, participate in conferences such as the Keystone Symposium in “Neurodegeneration: The Biological Pathways Driving the Future of Therapeutic Development” or conducting a research visit. These, will help me expand my network, enrich my technical expertise and add important findings to my research”.

Andrea: “I will use the Pelican grant to participate to one of the most important conferences in my field, the Brain Tumors meeting in Warsaw (June 22nd -24th ), to share my work and to meet experts to receive feedback and, hopefully, establish new collaborations”.

Catherine: “To finalize my doctoral studies in the finest way, I will use the grant money to attend the “Brain Tumor Meeting” taking place this year in Berlin, Germany. This meeting provides an excellent opportunity to meet, present and discuss my work with peers”.

 

About the Fondation du Pélican

The Fondation du Pélican de Mie et Pierre Hippert-Faber was founded in 2010 by Pierre Hippert and is managed by the Fondation de Luxembourg. The foundation seeks to provide long-term support in the field of scientific and academic research, as well as in the area of the arts and letters. In particular, the foundation finances research projects at the University of Luxembourg by giving scholarships and/or purchasing equipment in biomedicine in order to promote research activities in Luxembourg and develop the reputation of the University in this field.

Each year, the Fondation du Pélican awards a number of doctoral candidates affiliated with the programme in systems and molecular biomedicine of the Doctoral School in Science and Engineering (DSSE) at the University of Luxembourg. The Pelican grant can be used to finance their research. It can cover additional experiments, travel expenses to participate in conferences and training workshops, as well as short-term stays abroad as part of research collaborations.

Thank you to Fondation du Pélican for their long-lasting support of 10 years!