"There are three levels of support. The first is financial so that we can pay for staff and laboratory testing. Secondly, opportunities exist in terms of optimising the project by working together with the Fournier-Majoie Foundation and UGhent Technology Transfer. Lastly, there is the enthousiasm coming from Bernard Majoie and his team. His interest and availability are very stimulating."
My name is Jo Vandesompele and I'm a professor at Ghent University where I head the Lab for Functional Cancer Genomics and Applied Bioinformatics. I am also founder and CEO of Biogazelle.
1. What, in everyday language, is the purpose of your work?
At present there is no optimal prognostic system to assess chances of survival in children with neuroblastoma. The objective is to determine new risk profiles so that ultimately we can precisely evaluate the risks for the patient and decide on the right treatment.
2. When do you hope to see the work completed?
The project was launched several years ago and has been funded by the FFM since 2008 up until the end of 2012, when we hope to reach completion.
3. What gave you the idea for starting on research in this particular area?
Quite simply because neuroblastoma is a very aggressive form of cancer and 50% of children affected die from it. It is therefore vital to be able to predict patient risks so that we can treat it effectively.
4. How many people are there in the research team?
We operate with a team of 6 people with one full-time and the others dividing their time among a number of projects. This effectively means that 2.5 people are working on the project full-time.
5. When and how did you find out about the FFMI and Bernard Majoie?
We heard about the FFM and its call for projects specifically focused around biomarkers via the Roi Baudouin Foundation in late 2007.
6. What type of support/guidance have you received from the FFM?
There are three levels of support. The first is financial so that we can pay for staff and laboratory testing. Secondly, opportunities exist in terms of optimising the project. Lastly, there is the enthousiasm coming from Bernard Majoie and his team"
7. To what extent would you have been able to conduct this research without the help of the FFM?
Much more slowly and with less chance of success. Speed is crucial in research if you want to get there first and be able to protect your discovery. The FFM is not the first Fund to have supported this project, on which work had begun well before, but the Bernard-Majoie Foundation has been a catalyst and helped speed up the process.
8. How would you describe the activities and role of the FFM?
The Foundation's role is vital to cancer research in Belgium, and its system is unique in that it provides support but asks researchers for a financial return if the project proves to be marketable.
9. How do you envisage following up your work if it is successful?
Together with the FFMI and Ghent Tech Transfer, we will optimise the opportunities for marketing our test and start looking for an industrial partner. Plus, we have ideas for another project relating to a different form of cancer where we will be able to maximise our expertise and apply the same dynamic.
This approach ensures that the project is focused and will generate more relevant results. It brings about project managing skills for scientists. The Foundation forces you from the start to think towards patients’ needs and benefits, instead of focusing only on the scientific part. Working with the Foundation Fournier-Majoie I’ve also gained a lot of know-how that has also helped me in my activities for Biogazelle, a Ghent University spin-off company offering genomics solutions, including quantitative and digital PCR. Of course I was very enthusiastic to learn that the Foundation selected the research of my colleague prof. Speleman and myself for the Awards 2013. This renewed collaboration allows us to take our neuroblastoma research to the next level, meaning the validation of the mRNA and miRNA signatures, and the integration of a methylation signature under development.