My interest in cancer immunology was created during the course Immunology given by Prof. Thielemans. I was astonished by how the immune system, a complex network of cells that reside in different organs and tissues, could prevent us from being ill. Unfortunately, like every system, the immune system is not free from imperfections. For example, effector T cells can fail to eradicate cancer cells, which is a big setback to limit tumor growth. Luckily, some devoted researchers dedicate their life to try to exploit the immune system to clear cancer cells. Because of this interest for immunology I wrote my bachelor hypothesis about the use of genetically engineered dendritic cells to improve antigen presentation and tumorspecific T-cell activation. This bachelor work was performed under the guidance of Prof. Breckpot and has further inspired me to start cancer research.
Next, I started a master degree in biomedical sciences and decided to do my first internship abroad. I spent four months with the Sheffield Myeloma Research Team (University of Sheffield, UK), where I was brought in contact with PhD students and post-doc researchers and a lot of practical laboratory work. I worked on osteoblast differentiation assays to characterize different condition media and proteins, which are believed to influence osteoblast survival and differentiation. The fact of having my own project during my first placement allowed me to gain a lot of valuable experience in different areas. This has further fuelled my passion for science.
In my second master year, I performed my internship under the guidance of Profs. Breckpot, Devoogdt and Keyaerts. Together with IWT-funded PhD student K. Broos, I studied nanobodies that bind PDL1 for both imaging and therapy purposes. This project was challenging in several aspects. The research was interdisciplinary, and several cell lines and assays had to be newly developed. Moreover, I had three promotors to whom I reported on a monthly basis. This project was however rewarding as it allowed me to further grow as a young scientist, allowing me to learn new techniques in the field of imaging and immunology, to take initiative when new protocols need to be implemented, to find solutions to different problems, to improve my organizational and communication skills.
After the acquisition of an "Emmanuel van der Scheuren" starters fund in 2017, I could now start my very own project at the LMCT lab. The work I've done during that year allowed me to be fully prepared to apply for an FWO-SB grant, which I succesfully acquired in 2018. Evaluating the next-generation immune checkpoint LAG-3 as a negative regulator on anti-tumor immunity is, to this day, my main project.