I study the interactions between cancer cells and our immune system. I have a particular focus on understanding why tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are unable to kill tumor cells, and finding strategies to overcome this blockage.
After completion of a PhD thesis in plant phytopathology, I joined the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Brussels. In 1991, together with Catia Traversari, via a genetic approach I identified the first antigen recognized by a cytolytic T lymphocyte on human cancer cells. Gene MAGE-1, which encodes this antigen, is expressed in many tumor types but not in most normal tissues.
Together with students and post-doctoral fellows, I have identified genes with the same expression profiles, such as genes of the MAGE, BAGE, and GAGE families. We have also designed new approaches to identify antigenic peptides encoded by these genes. Several of them were used in clinical trials. We have set up approaches to detect anti-vaccine T cell responses in vaccinated patients. These vaccines have induced T cell responses but have shown a low clinical efficacy in tumor-bearing melanoma patients. We believe that progress in cancer therapeutic approaches, including vaccines, will depend on unraveling the different blockages for efficient tumor destruction. One of the blockages could be the immunosuppressive environment of the tumor.
Together with Nathalie Demotte, I have shown that galectin-3, a lectin binding to glycoproteins at the surface of T cells, is responsible for deficient effector functions of T cells in a tumor environment. Galectins are highly secreted by tumor cells and macrophages. The release of galectins by galectin antagonists or an anti-galectin-3 antibody boosts cytokine secretion and cytolyic activity, possibly by increasing the motility of some surface receptors. A clinical trial has been initiated based on these results.
I have published more than 100 primary research papers and reviews.
PhD in Agronomical Sciences, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, 1987
Agronomical Engineer, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, 1982
Prize Allard-Janssen, 2009
Prize of the Fondation Alexandre et Gaston Tytgat, 1998
Prize Maggy et Robert de Hovre, 1995