Funding for scientific research is not easy to come by. At the same time, many foundations generously pledge significant amounts to scientists and research programs they believe can further their cause. Below is a snapshot of foundational funding for VIB research.
Yamina Krossa, a hero of many
Yamina Krossa donated the remaining amount of money of her non-profit organization Benetiet vzw to the breast cancer research of Damya Laoui (VIB Center for Inflammation Research, VUB) who is working on a possible cancer vaccination to prevent relapse. The VUB Foundation and the VUB Vice-rector of Innovation and Valorization Hugo Thienpont were moved by Yamina’s story and proposed to set up a Fund named after her. The first beneficiary of this Fund would be Damya and her team.
Yamina, proud and grateful, considers it a privilege to be able to contribute to the groundbreaking research of Laoui: “Damya once told me how expensive it was to run her lab and that on top of that, she spends up to half of her time on searching for funds and grants. I then took on the challenge to raise funds to support her research.”
Big players – Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Michael J. Fox Foundation
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the philanthropic endeavor led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his partner Priscilla Chan, is an initiative that seeks to fund innovative scientific projects across the world via thematic calls. VIB is one of the institutes that managed to attract its attention.
One of the supported projects brings together scientists with broad and complementary expertise to generate a comprehensive cell atlas of the human thymus across development and aging, with Yvan Saeys (VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research) and Tom Taghon (Ghent University) as major contributors.
Yvan: “For this specific call, large consortia are definitelythe best option, with a clear focus on complementarity and proven expertise of the different partners. These are big projects and no lab would be able to do it on his own. CZI focusses on interdisciplinary projects to increase the impact of the supported work.”
Tom: “One of the great things of CZI grants is that you get exposed to a lot of excellent scientists from different disciplines because networking and sharing of resources is really stimulated by CZI. As a scientist, it provides lots of inspiration for novel ideas and opportunities to use novel technologies for your own research.”
Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research) leads another CZI project, alongside clinical expert Wim Vandenberghe (UZ Leuven) and neuro-engineer Dries Braeken (imec). The team plans to create a new chip to study the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease.
Patrik: “Of course I was pleased to receive the email that confirmed we got the grant. But at that moment I didn’t have an idea of the impact CZI has, besides the financial value of the grant. The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative is well known and, since the number of grantees is much more limited than that of let us say ERC grantees, it gives you extra exposure. This grant really opens doors, we have been quite successful in raising funds in the US, not evident for a European research team.”
VIB’s Wim Versées (VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology) received several grants from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) to use Nanobodies® to characterize potential drug targets for the disease.
Wim: “I was of course delighted when I received the news. Funding by MJFF implies more than just the financial support that allows you to conduct the research you love. It is also a recognition that your research is relevant for society and for patients. MJFF’s support is key for the further translation of our findings into potential novel therapies for Parkinson’s.”
Generous patrons – Opening the Future and Mission Lucidity
KU Leuven started Opening the Future in 2013 as a campaign to gather patrons seeking to support research into neurodegenerative diseases. Unique in Flanders, it gathered around 40 generous families whose support, vision, and trust solidified the initiative. After this auspicious beginning, Opening the Future has built a unique community of patrons of science with outstanding local and international results. An example of this is Mission Lucidity, a collaboration between VIB, UZ Leuven, KU Leuven, and imec that seeks to decode dementia.
Through Opening the Future, scientists and patrons join each other in a journey towards an improved quality of life for everyone through societally impactful projects. The campaign will continue to support research into neurodegenerative conditions while branching out to oncological research. Opening the Future already supported VIB-KU Leuven researchers Bart De Strooper, Patrik Verstreken, Ludo Van Den Bosch, Philip Van Damme and Peter Carmeliet. With the new campaign others may follow in the future.
The Dutch Lung Foundation
As a Dutch health organization, medical research charity and patients’ association, the Dutch Lung Foundation (Longfonds) is focused on finding solutions for chronic lung diseases, especially for COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and asthma. To accelerate a medical breakthrough in lung research, Longfonds launched an international collaboration of top scientists under the name of LONGFONDS | Accelerate. (for more information: longfonds.accelerate.nl) The Dutch Lung Foundation consulted experts in the field of lung research and asked which pioneers should be involved. This led to the launch of the consortium on Asthma Prevention, involving Bart Lambrecht and Hamida Hammad (VIB-UGent Center for Inflammation Research), and groups from the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia.
Together against Dystonia
At the turn of the century, fashion designer Lieve Van Gorp and art director Greet Ruelens were managing a successful fashion label out of their hometowns Antwerp (Belgium) and Paris (France). When Greet learned she had dystonia after a 4-year long search for a diagnosis, the designer duo established the Foundation for Dystonia Research (FDR) in 2009. The aim of the Foundation is to promote scientific research into the biological mechanisms driving dystonia. “After all, fundamental research is the starting point in our endeavor to find a better treatment and, hopefully, a cure”, says Greet Ruelens, who is still seeking an optimal treatment to improve her quality of life.
When FDR was established, Dystonia research was still non-existent in Belgium. To remedy this situation, the Foundation decided to substantially invest in a Dystonia research group together with VIB and KU Leuven. Via an international call Rose Goodchild was attracted to join the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research and pursue her Dystonia research as part of the VIB community.