Photo: Lundbeckfonden

Seven-figure grant to help researcher understand sclerosis

Wednesday 04 Mar 15
by Bjørn Lymann Jespersen


Vasileios Bekiaris
Groupleader, Associate Professor
DTU Health Tech
+45 35 88 68 28

A DTU researcher is seeking to understand what causes the immune system to attack the body’s own healthy cells in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, and how to prevent this from happening. He is studying a family of enzymes which appear to play a key role in connection with the onset of sclerosis.

Immunologist Vasileios Bekiaris has just received a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship grant of DKK 10 million. The money will be used to identify how the immune system’s white blood cells recognize the chemical signals from sclerosis-affected tissue.

“By understanding how the white blood cells react and what they react to, we hope to devise a means of intervention for preventing the disease from progressing,” says Vasileios Bekiaris.

Our immune system is fine-tuned to detect when viruses and bacteria attack our cells, and immediately counter-attack to stop the infection. However, sometimes genetic errors cause normal tissue to emit chemical substances so that the immune system thinks there is a infection underway. The immune system then attacks the healthy tissue, as in the case of multiple sclerosis.

Testing promising material
Vasileios is concentrating his studies on a specific group of immune system enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for activating the white blood cells, thereby creating a basis for the inflammation in the tissue which exacerbates sclerosis. He has discovered that a substance affecting these enzymes has an enormous impact on the function of the white blood cells.

“The material blocks the functioning of the enzymes we are studying, effectively stopping the white blood cells from being activated and thus suppressing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It looks very promising,” says Vasileios Bekiaris. He will now continue his research in order to fully understand how the enzymes affect the white blood cells if they are not blocked and at the same time optimize the treatment potential of the material.

“In the coming years, we will gain a much greater understanding of inflammatory immune cells. My hope is that we will be able to put forward one or more candidates for the treatment of the disease,” he stresses.

Strong competencies to DTU
The Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship grant signals the move of Greek Vasileios Bekiaris’ research from Sweden to DTU.

“This fellowship will give me the opportunity to establish a further strong immunology group at DTU’s rapidly expanding immunology centre,” says Vasileios Bekiaris, who is very much looking forward to getting started in the coming months.

The grant ensures him the peace and quiet to work over the next five years, enabling him to focus on developing a treatment for sclerosis and other diseases in which the immune system begins attacking healthy tissue.

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