22 October 2021
5 min read
FNR Awards 2021: LIH researchers shine at centre-stage
Two of the 2021 FNR awards bestowed to LIH researchers of the Department of Oncology
LIH scientists were triumphant in more than one category at the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) awards 2021. In a ceremony that took place in Belval, Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) researchers Prof Dr Simone Niclou, Director of the Department of Oncology and group leader of the NORLUX Neuro-Oncology Laboratory and Dr Anna Golebiewska, group leader of the NORLUX Neuro-Oncology Laboratory, received the highly prestigious Outstanding Scientific Achievement award. In addition, Dr Pablo Elias Morande of the LIH Tumor Stroma Interactions group, was bestowed the Outstanding Mentor award.
Previous FNR Awards for the categories of ‘Research-Driven Innovation’ and ‘Science Publication’ were this year absorbed into the new category ‘Outstanding Scientific Achievement’, to attribute more value to research projects that shape their scientific field instead of zooming in on a single output such as a scientific publication or a marketable product. The judging panel appraised this new category according to the impact of the research on society and the corresponding contribution to the advancement of the respective scientific field. Among numerous applications and noteworthy projects, it was an immense accomplishment when this year, in the presence of the Luxembourg research community, the award for ‘Outstanding Scientific Achievement’ was presented to Dr Golebiewska and Prof Dr Niclou for their ground-breaking translational research in neuro-oncology.
In close cooperation with the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL) and the major research institutes in Luxembourg, notably with the Laboratoire National de Santé, and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine of the University of Luxembourg, the NORLUX Neuro-Oncology Laboratory team has established a ‘living’ biobank of brain tumours collected from patients undergoing brain surgery in Luxembourg. From the biobank, the team have developed preclinical research models, so-called 3D tumour organoids as well as patient-derived xenografts that are able to faithfully reproduce the biological and molecular features of the original patient tumours. In addition to providing invaluable insights in brain tumour biology, these ‘patient avatars’ have a unique value in precision oncology as a drug-screening platform for preclinical and co-clinical studies. The team hopes to use them to perform large-scale personalized drug efficacy studies, thus increasing the chances of success of clinical trials and paving the way towards improved clinical outcomes for patients.
The NORLUX group has always concentrated on research with a translational potential that could actively contribute to the development of innovative therapies and effective tools for personalised medicine. The creation of these ‘patient avatars’ addresses a current unmet need for accurate and comprehensive models in the preclinical setting, and, in addition to leading to the Outstanding Scientific Achievement award, is also continuously supporting breakthroughs in personalised cancer therapy. Indeed, the NORLUX group have been able to increase the availability and use of these invaluable resources at the global levels by sharing their data and models in several initiatives. These include the EurOPDX consortium, which aims to establish standards for preclinical cancer research using patient-derived models, leading international partners such as GLASS and GLIOTRAIN consortia, as well as biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
The success of the LIH researchers at the FNR Awards did not end there. Following a nomination by his peers, Dr Morande of the Tumor Stroma Interactions group was conferred the FNR Outstanding Mentor award.
“More than in other fields, scientists are often requested to be rational and able to deal with great levels of failure and disappointment. Pablo made us accept and welcome those emotions without feeling weak or inappropriate. In addition to being a great scientific mentor, he is always attentive to the emotional well-being of the people surrounding him,” commented his colleagues in the award application. “Pablo believes that everyone has something important to add independently of their academic status, and that we can always learn something new from someone with less experience.”
This award is also part of a new category that has been introduced this year, through which the FNR hopes to recognise outstanding mentorship and reward this important but sometimes unappreciated element of research. Upon bestowal, Dr Morande was commended for his great mentorship of PhD students in Luxembourg as well as for his contribution to a productive and healthy research environment in which every employee can thrive and develop to their full academic potential.
“I am extremely proud of the Department of Oncology as a whole for these exceptional achievements. FNR awards are the most prestigious awards that can be won in Luxembourg. Winning not one, but two of these, reflects the exemplary quality of both our science and our researchers. It’s the kind of recognition that tells you that your work is making an impact that is felt beyond the lab, with our efforts in the world of research leading to tangible results that impact patient care and people development,”
commented Prof Dr Niclou.
This year, FNR awards were given to the following categories: Outstanding PhD Thesis, Outstanding Scientific Achievement, Outstanding Promotion of Science to the Public and Outstanding Mentor. Among other candidates, Marina Wierz was shortlisted for her doctoral thesis at the Tumor Stroma Interactions group at the LIH, on immune cells and immunotherapy in the most frequent form of leukemia.
About the luxembourg institute of health
The Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) is a public biomedical research organization focused on precision health and invested in becoming a leading reference in Europe for the translation of scientific excellence into meaningful benefits for patients.
LIH places the patient at the heart of all its activities, driven by a collective obligation towards society to use knowledge and technology arising from research on patient derived data to have a direct impact on people’s health. Its dedicated teams of multidisciplinary researchers strive for excellence, generating relevant knowledge linked to immune related diseases and cancer.
The institute embraces collaborations, disruptive technology and process innovation as unique opportunities to improve the application of diagnostics and therapeutics with the long-term goal of preventing disease.