ERC Starting Grant

Bénédicte Machiels obtains a European funding for her project VIROME



Bénédicte Machiels,  a researcher in the Immunology-Vaccinology Laboratory of the FARAH Centre (Fundamental and applied research for animal and health) at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, has been awarded a €1.5 million grant from the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant) for her project VIROME (VIral Regulation Of Monocyte Education). Through this research, Bénédicte Machiels hopes to reveal new insights in the mechanisms underlying the long-term training of monocytes. Such general understanding can be useful for the development of targeted therapeutic strategies to better control or reprogramme deleterious immune responses.

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here is a wide variation in immune responses between individuals when exposed to a particular stimulus (pathogenic or harmless microorganisms, allergens, vaccines, pollutants, etc.). This heterogeneity can be explained in part by genetic factors, but also by previous exposure to environmental factors. Among these, both symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms play a fundamental role in modulating host immunity. In particular, the often-underestimated immune imprinting by viruses is a key determinant, especially if it occurs during early childhood. For example, gammaherpesviruses - viruses that are prevalent in humans - have developed many immunomodulatory mechanisms that allow them to establish lifelong infections. These properties confer a selective advantage for the virus but sometimes also for the host. Indeed, in previous work, Bénédicte Machiels and the research team headed by Laurent Gillet, highlighted the regulatory properties acquired by some innate immune cells, the monocytes, in response to infection by a gammaherpesvirus. When recruited to the inflammatory site, monocytes and monocyte-derived cells (some macrophages) can subsequently regulate the immune response and, for example, inhibit the development of allergic asthma.

Following this discovery, many questions remain. Is the functional polarization of monocytes a unique feature of gammaherpesviruses? How can we explain the long-term effect of virus-driven monocyte training when these innate cells only persist for a few days? What could be the influence of other viruses? Where are monocytes educated by viruses? By which mechanisms and with which consequences for the host immunity? Here are the challenges that the ERC Starting Grant "VIROME" project proposes to meet.

While monocytes are involved in numerous biological processes such as pathogen killing but also in the pathophysiology of multiple diseases including cancer and inflammatory disorders, understanding what regulates monocyte functions is a crucial issue for developing new therapeutic strategies.

About Bénédicte Machiels

Graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the ULiège in 2007, Bénédicte Machiels pursued her career as a researcher by starting a PhD thesis as a F.R.S.-FNRS fellow in the Immunology-Vaccinology Laboratory (FARAH), under the supervision of Professor Laurent Gillet. Her PhD work, which focused on gammaherpesviruses, highlighted specific viral strategies to escape from the host's immune recognition. In 2011, Bénédicte became a F.R.S.-FNRS postdoctoral researcher. This fellowship allowed her, on the one hand, to realize a postdoctoral stay in Toby Lawrence's laboratory in the “centre d’immunologie de Marseille-Lunminy” (CIML), and on the another hand, to investigate the influence of gammaherpesvirus infections on the subsequent development of allergic immune responses with Laurent Gillet. This research, published in 2017 in Nature Immunology, led to the surprising discovery that gammaherpesvirus infection completely protects against the development of allergic asthma in mice. Currently, Bénédicte is pursuing her work in the immunology-vaccinology laboratory at the FARAH centre of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. In recent years, her research has mainly focused on the mechanisms underlying the long-term training of monocytes and macrophages and on the potential consequences for the host immunity.

ERC Starting Grant

ERC Grants are major instruments deployed by the European Research Council to fund research projects in Europe. The procedure, extremely selective, selects only the best researchers and research projects of the highest level, combining audacity and competence to tackle new research avenues likely, in the event of success, to substantially enrich knowledge.

There are 5 types of grants: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants, Synergy Grants and Proof of Concept

Sarting ERC grants are designed to help young researchers (2-7 years of experience since completing their PhD) with a very promising scientific record and excellent research proposal.

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