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Damya Laoui is New Scientist Science Talent 2018

01 June 2018

Winner conducts research on cancer vaccine development

Biomedical scientist Damya Laoui (1985) was named New Scientist Science Talent 2018 on Thursday evening, May 31. The young researcher received the award in part because of her original research approach. Laoui is developing a vaccine that should protect patients with cancer against metastases from their tumors. This vaccine is based on immune cells located in the tumor. The prize was awarded for the fourth time this year and is an initiative of popular science magazine New Scientist. Among other things, Laoui receives a sum of money. Jury member Lieve van Hoof (co-chair of the Young Academy in Flanders) and astronomer Vincent Icke announced the winner during the New Scientist Live event at TivoliVredenburg in Utrecht.

Research Damya Laoui
It is rarely the first tumor that kills. Of all cancer deaths in the world, 90 percent can be traced back to recurrent tumors or metastases. Immunologist Damya Laoui, affiliated with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology, has found a possible “vaccine” in tumors themselves against metastases. It is thus a drug tailored to each individual patient. This immunotherapy could save lives and has fewer side effects than current methods. Within a few years, Laoui hopes to begin clinical trials in which the vaccine will be tested on humans for the first time.

Ideas that change the world
Jury member Lieve van Hoof praised the winner for her research approach. ‘The use of the body’s own cells in the fight against cancer is a new and original direction in this field of research. Several researchers nominated for the prize are working on immunotherapy, but Laoui stood out from the rest.’ The Flemish-Algerian also scored highly with the jury in terms of popularizing her research. Van Hoof: ‘Among other things she has worked on television programs for children. In addition, many major Flemish newspapers have published articles to which she contributed.

Jim Jansen, fellow member of the jury and editor-in-chief of New Scientist, emphasizes the social importance of Laoui’s research. Almost everyone has to deal with someone who has cancer, with all the terrible consequences that entails. Nearly eight million people die of the disease every year. Damya Laoui is one of the many scientists working on solutions. New Scientist’s slogan since time immemorial has been ‘ideas that change the world’ and if Laoui can continue her research for a few more years, the world will indeed change for individual people.

The Prize
The New Scientist Science Talent award was created to provide a platform for young scientific talents and encourage them in their research. As the winner, Laoui will receive a cash prize of 2,500 euros (made available by the Rathenau Institute and New Scientist), as well as a trophy. In addition, she will be given the opportunity to further publicize her research through New Scientist. Laoui will receive an extensive profile interview in the magazine.

Public and jury prize
The election of the New Scientist Science Talent has a public and jury component. The public vote and that of the jury both count for 50 percent in the final result. This year the jury consisted of chairman Stan Gielen (chairman NWO), supplemented by Melanie Peters (director Rathenau Institute), Lieve van Hoof (co-chairman Young Academy), Joos Vandewalle (chairman KVAB) and Jim Jansen (editor in chief New Scientist).

The other four finalists were Tim Baarslag (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, Amsterdam), Hannelore Bové (Universiteit Hasselt), Michiel Dusselier (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) and Marjolein Vanoppen (Universiteit Gent).

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