Two WELBIO investigators from Université libre de Bruxelles have obtained Consolidator Grants from the European Research Council (ERC). Their projects are dedicated to the Blood-Brain Barrier and to multidrug-resistant bacteria.
Ctrl-BBB: a filter for the brain
Blood vessels in the brain act as a filter: they supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain, while also keeping out potentially toxic cells and compounds. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) fulfils this dual role and ensures cerebral homoeostasis.
With his ERC Consolidator project, dubbed ‘Ctrl-BBB’, Benoit Vanhollebeke, investigator for WELBIO at the Neurovascular Signalling Laboratory (Faculty of Sciences, BioPark and ULB Neuroscience Institute) will study the complex regulation mechanisms of this barrier. These are not the result of genetic programming, but rather the result of multiple interactions between endothelial cells in blood vessels and other components of the neurovascular system. Over the past few years, Benoit Vanhollebeke and his team have developed new models that enable a non-invasive genetic analysis of the blood-brain barrier’s functions.
‘Understanding the BBB’s regulation is essential in order to understand dysfunctions related to many cerebrovascular conditions (stroke, glioblastoma, neurodegenerative diseases). It would also enable us to look into new therapeutic approaches: the BBB remains the main obstacle to getting drugs into the central nervous system’, explains Benoit Vanhollebeke.
DiStRes: hunting down ‘superbug’ bacteria
Multidrug-resistant bacteria, which can withstand antibiotic treatments, are known as superbugs.Drug resistance has become a major public health issue, with part of the bacterial population made up of ‘persistent’ bacteria that tolerate drugs and are the source of this resistance.
A key mediator of this antibiotic tolerance is a pair of enzymes, ReIA/SpoT (also called RSH enzymes), that are the molecular components of the environmental stress response in bacteria. ‘We do not yet have a comprehensive view of how these enzymes work at the molecular level, nor of the parameters that influence stress response in bacteria’, explains Abel Garcia-Pino, WELBIO investigator in the Department of Molecular Biology (Faculty of Sciences, BioPark) and codirector of the Molecular Biophysics & Structural Biology Lab (Faculty of Sciences). The purpose of his ERC Consolidator project ‘DiStRes’ is to understand the role of RSH enzymes in stress response, but also to decrypt their organization and structure. One of the project’s goals is to develop new antibiotics based on the knowledge gained.
‘Structural biology is currently undergoing a revolution similar to that of genomics at the end of the 20th century, with improved models and increased access to information. Our work at the laboratory will enable us to design, using entirely new processes, molecules that target pathogenic bacteria, potentially leading to a new generation of antibiotics.’, he explains.