Starting from scratch

Luxembourg launches a national initiative to promote biomedicine and health technologies. The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) is built from scratch within that framework. Prof. Rudi Balling, newly appointed as director, is given a carte blanche to create an interdisciplinary centre within the University of Luxembourg that will focus on biomedical research. He drafts the first master plan on a white sheet of paper.

All in for Parkinson’s disease

Soon after the creation of the LCSB, the main research topic of the centre is selected: it will be Parkinson’s disease. This is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases worldwide and there is no cure yet. It means there is plenty left to discover, a need for input from different fields, as well as a direct link to healthcare professionals and patients: a perfect focus for the brand new LCSB.

Worldwide networking

International networking and learning from the best helps LCSB to position itself and grow. And where better to start than with the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) in Seattle , one of the leading biomedical research centre. A knowledge transfer programme is set up to allow LCSB researchers to spend some time at the ISB, learn from their peers and bring back to Luxembourg the knowledge and know-how. Over the next years, similar programms and exchanges of talented young scientists will be set up with other international leading institutions such as the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, the Helmholtz Association, the Gladstone Institutes in California and the Systems Biology Institute in Tokyo.



Thinking ahead: the future of biomedicine

Strategy is key when building a new research centre from the ground up. Prof. Rudi Balling and Prof. Antonio Del Sol publish a white paper with colleagues of the ISB, detailing their vision for the future of biomedicine. The take home message? Systems biology is changing medicine, which will become preventive, predictive, personalised and participative. The paper puts the LCSB on the map of biomedical research and also highlighted what needs to be developed: automation and miniaturisation technologies, imaging techniques, microfluidics and single cell studies, time series analyses and new mathematical approaches. Ten years later there are all here at the LCSB and are making their way into medical applications!

First in-house scientific conference

The LCSB organises its first international symposium dedicated to Parkinson’s disease. The two-days event attracts over 80 participants: national stakeholders, European researchers and clinicians, as well as world-known experts. The keynote lecture is given by Prof. Anthony Schapira from the Faculty of Brain Sciences of University College London. This is the first of a series of yearly scientific conferences hosted by the LCSB.

ATTRACTing funds for metabolomics

Dr Karsten Hiller joins the LCSB. With the support of an ATTRACT grant of the Fonds National de la Recherche, he is setting up a new research group. His team focuses on “metabolomics”, the study of small molecules, commonly known as metabolites, and of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind. This technique will be applied to a wide variety of LCSB disease programmes.


A new residence in Belval

The LCSB is moving into its new home: the “House of Biomedicine” on Campus Belval. The brand-new building - the first one on site for the University of Luxembourg - is bright, friendly and functional. A great environment to welcome our 7 research groups and 50 staff members. And it is located just next to the blast furnaces, a spectacular reminder of the industrial past of the site which will now be dedicated to research and higher education!
Biotech 1 _ new residence in Belval

Here come the computer wizards

The LCSB gets its own Bioinformatics Core lead by Dr Reinhard Schneider, previously in charge of data integration and knowledge management at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. This team of computer scientists and bioinformaticians helps to manage and analyse the huge amount of data produced in the labs. Computational science becomes one of the main pillar of the centre.


Diving into the world of microbes

With the arrival of Dr Paul Wilmes, a new ATTRACT fellow of the Fonds National de la Recherche, the LCSB dives into a novel field of study: the microbiome! His research group named “Eco-Systems Biology” studies microbial communities – from wastewater plants to the human gut – to better understand how they work and look for application in bioenergy and health.


Mapping Parkinson

The Parkinson’s disease map gains spotlight in the scientific community. This collaborative project between the LCSB and the Systems Biology Institute in Tokyo – a major international partner of our centre – aims to gather all the scientific knowledge produced worldwide on Parkinson’s disease in one user-friendly and interactive overview. Building this map of the disease started a few years ago and the project is now in full swing, benefitting from the diverse skill sets of the LCSB team. In the years to come, the LCSB will be known worldwide for this disease map technology and develop maps for Alzheimer’s, liver diseases and many more.


The LCSB goes public

The centre participates regularly in outreach events. In November, the scientists of the Eco-Systems Biology group invited visitors into the world of microbes during the Researchers’ Days. In December, the centre’s director introduced the LCSB to the people of Esch-sur-Alzette during a public lecture at the city hall. To inspire the next generations, the centre also welcomes several high-school classes for lab visits throughout the year. Outreach is part of the LCSB mission: the research centre it not an ivory towers and science should be shared with the broadest audience.

Gut on a chip

Researchers at the LCSB develop a model of the human gut called HuMiX. In this device, no bigger than a beer mat, human intestinal cells and bacteria can be cultivated together under conditions representative of the gut. With HuMiX, the scientists can observe the complex interactions between human cells and bacteria in real-time, predict their effects on health, and study the action of probiotics and drugs. This technology will receive many awards in the following years such as the Lush Young Researcher prize and the FNR award for research-driven innovation.

Royal guests in the labs

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg visit the LCSB. Prof. Balling guides the distinguished guests through the labs, explains the future of biomedical research and personalised medicine, and presents several of the team members of the young research centre. The LCSB often receives important guests such as national politicians and foreign delegations, and acts as showcase for biomedical research in Luxembourg.


Biomedical data - Joining the big league

The Bioinformatics Core of the LCSB obtains a central role in eTRIKS, a consortium aiming to develop standard methods and technologies to pool available biomedical data together and get them ready for analysis. This project is supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative and amongst the partners are pharmaceutical giants like Astra-Zeneca and Sanofi-Aventis, as well as major European research institutes. The LCSB is in charge of data curation and sustainability. It will become one of its core expertise and will lead to the creation of its start-up ITTM.


Expanding and innovating

The LCSB keeps growing at a steady pace. With now 13 research groups and just under 150 staff members, the centre has widened its horizon. The core values are still the same though: interdisciplinary collaborations, international links and a strong team spirit! Innovation and knowledge transfer are also blooming at the LCSB: the first two start-ups are founded by members of different research groups and 3 patents have already been registered so far.

A natural antibiotic in the brain

The research project focusing on itaconic acid, a compound acting as a natural antibiotic in the brain of mammals, comes to fruition with the publication of a paper in PNAS, a high-impact scientific journal. The project involves several teams at the LCSB. Their collaborative work showed that mammalian cells produce itaconic acid, identified the enzyme involved as well as IRG1, the gene coding for it, and highlighted its role in the immune response.


Jump start for study on human metabolism

FNR ATTRACT fellow Ass. Prof. Ines Thiele starts a new research team at the LCSB. The Molecular Systems Physiology group will study human metabolism, the countless biochemical reactions that take place in our body, and their interaction with the microbes in our gut. By simulating these reactions on the computer and building a huge interactive map of the entire network, the researchers want to get a clear picture of the links between diet and health.

American prize for project on Alzheimer’s

Dr Enrico Glaab wins a public scientific challenge of the US Geoffrey Beene Foundation with an entirely novel research project on Alzheimer’s disease and gender. Strikingly in Alzheimer’s disease, elderly women are afflicted much more frequently than men, with about two third of the patients being female. This gender difference cannot be explained by the longer average lifespan of women alone. With his research on the topic, the LCSB scientist comes one step ahead of opponents from Harvard University and receives a 50.000 USD grant.


“De Labo fir Jonker” is born

The Scienteens Lab is officially inaugurated in the presence of their Royal Highnesses the Crown Prince Guillaume and the Crown Princess Stéphanie. This is the first students’ lab in Luxembourg, where high-school classes can experiment and discover the world of scientific research with the help of the LCSB team. The Scienteens Lab is under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Stéphanie of Luxembourg.



Exploring the genetic background of epilepsy

The first papers on epilepsy involving LCSB researchers are published in scientific journals such as Nature Genetics and the American Journal of Human Genetics. These studies carried out within EuroEPINOMICS, a large international consortium dedicated to shedding light on the genetic background of epilepsy, identified new mutations linked to Dravet syndrome and infantile epileptic encephalopathy. Epilepsy is a longstanding research interest for the LCSB and since then LCSB scientists have been involved in the discovery of more than 20 new epilepsy genes.

From bedside to bench and back

Together with the director of the LCSB, Prof. Rejko Krüger is coordinating the National Centre of Excellence in Research on Parkinson’s Disease (NCER-PD). The LCSB and three other Luxembourgish institutions join forces under this umbrella to work on early diagnosis and classification of Parkinson’s disease. This new flagship project strenghthens the LCSB focus on Parkinson’s disease and translational medicine. Prof. Krüger recently received a prestigious PEARL grant from the Fonds National de la Recherche and joined the LCSB as head of the Clinical & Experimental Neuroscience research group. He is researching the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease while also treating patients at the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg. NCER-PD bridges the gap between the research lab and the clinic by going from the bedside to the bench and back.


Making research better

Launch of the R3 initiative. R3 stands for “Responsible and Reproducible Research”. The goal is to improve the way we record research, in order to make sure that protocols, data and analysis are well documented. Why is it important? It improves the quality of the research by ensuring that the work our researchers do can be reproduced, even several years after the original study. This way, their results can be used and tested by others. This is how science progresses over time - by standing on the shoulders of giants - meaning by building on previous work and discoveries.

Very first step toward regenerative medicine

LCSB researchers manage to integrate stem cells into the brain of mice. These stem cells, implanted in an area of the brain important for Parkinson’s disease, developed into nerve cells and integrated themselves into the surrounding tissue. These results, published into Stem Cell Reports, pave the – still long – way towards cell replacement therapy in humans.


Opening of a second building

With over 200 staff members, the LCSB has outgrown the first “House of Biomedicine” and is relocating part of its team in a brand-new building on the Campus Belval. Our second home includes over 2700 square metres of laboratories and offices: plenty of space to welcome most of the LCSB research groups and the Life Science Research Unit of the University of Luxembourg. The centre is now managing two buildings and, with the boundaries of two municipalities running through the campus, the LCSB has one foot in Esch-sur-Alzette and the other in Belvaux.

Powerful start for research on mitochondria and Parkinson’s

A new addition to the LCSB team: Ass. Prof. Anne Grünewald, FNR ATTRACT fellow and head of the recently created Molecular and Functional Neurobiology group. Her research will be on Parkinson’s disease, with a special focus on mitochondria – the powerhouses of the cells – and their genome.

Of art and science

The first edition of Art2Cure – an art exhibition raising funds for biomedical research – is organised at the Kulturfabrik in Esch-sur-Alzette. Works by several Luxembourgish artists are displayed and the proceeds from the sales are invested in the National Centre of Excellence in Research on Parkinson’s Disease.


Taking the lead in European project

Big success for the LCSB: for the first time, the centre is coordinating a Horizon 2020 European research project. Called SysMedPD, it involves five universities and three companies from Luxembourg, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK. Funded with 5.9 million euros by the European Commission, the project will develop new techniques to analyse the role of mitochondria in Parkinson’s disease and identify active compounds against this disorder. This achievement shows that the LCSB has gained true recognition and leadership internationally.


Official recognition

His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg bestows upon LCSB director Rudi Balling the Ordre de Mérite du Grand-Duché de Luxembourg in recognition of his commitment to scientific research in Luxembourg.


Training the next generation

The LCSB coordinates its first Doctoral Training Unit (DTU): CriTiCs. Funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche, DTUs promote interdisciplinary education and collaboration between research institutions. Within these programmes, PhD students receive high-quality training that go beyond traditional doctoral supervision. With CriTiCs, the LCSB and its partners will focus on understanding critical transitions – catastrophic shifts from one state to another – and identifying early warning signals.

Microbiome and diabetes under the microscope

A collaboration between researchers from the LCSB, the Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg, the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg and the Centre Hospitalier Emile Mayrisch, sheds light on the links between bacteria of the gut and diabetes. Their study shows that the composition of the gut microbiota is similar between people with and without diabetes, but that there are clear differences in what the bacteria do. By adjusting the amounts of proteins or vitamins they produce, some once beneficial bacteria can become a health risk and exacerbate the course of the disease. These results are published in the high-impact journal Nature Microbiology.


Wheels for Parkinson

Thanks to a generous donation from the Fondation André and Henriette Losch, the Luxembourg Parkinson Study can now use a van equipped with a mobile laboratory unit to reach Parkinson’s patients who wish to participate in the study but who cannot travel easily. The “flying team” of the National Centre of Excellence in Research on Parkinson’s Disease can go to the participants and directly collect and store samples in the van: an important step for inclusion!



Neuropathology’s first step in Luxembourg

Thanks to the PEARL Chair programme of the Fonds National de la Recherche, Luxembourg gains the expertise of Prof. Michel Mittelbronn, a specialist in neuropathology. He joined the Laboratoire National de Santé in a joint appointment with the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the LCSB. Prof. Mittelbronn leads research teams at all three institutions and will also set up a first brain bank in Luxembourg. His main foci are neurodegenerative diseases and neuro-oncology.

A node in a European research network

Luxembourg joins ELIXIR, the European bioinformatics research infrastructure supporting the scientific community in the access, analysis and use of scientific data. A vital network considering researchers all over Europe generate vast amounts of data. The LCSB and its Bioinformatic Core represents Luxembourg in this network. Our focus is translational medicine: we are providing a data hub for biomedical and clinical data. They are of inestimable scientific value for medical research. ELIXIR Luxembourg is dedicated to make these data sustainably accessible for research on diseases and to enable a responsible use of existing data. ELIXIR-LU also “gives life to the data”, helping researchers make the most out of it throught curation, visualisation and analysis. The goal of ELIXIR-LU: make Luxembourg the “go-to” repository for biomedical data.

(Pillow) fighting Parkinson’s disease

Hundreds of visitors come to participate in the first giant public pillow fight organised by the LCSB and its partners to raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease and the research being conducted in the country. Pillows are flying in the air in front of the Grand-Ducal Palace to commemorate the daily fight patients put up against the disease!


Article number 500!

The 500th article presenting a study conducted by LCSB and its international partners is published. Like all scientists, LCSB researchers share the results of their work through articles published in scientific journals. In this particular article, one of our computer scientists describes a new tool he developed to help other researchers browse efficiently through scientific databases. This powerful search engine looks deep within journals, identify keywords and makes it much easier to find texts that are important to one’s research.

Raising the bar on the European stage

Associate professor Ines Thiele receives an “ERC starting grant” from the European Research Council (ERC), one of the most prestigious research subsidy in Europe. The head of the Molecular Systems Physiology group at the LCSB will receive 1.6 million euros to develop computer models helping with the personalisation of treatment strategies for different diseases.


Research, prevention and care

The LCSB implements two new programmes to strengthen the link between research and healthcare. ParkinsonNet Luxembourg is an integrated care network of healthcare professionals trained to take care of Parkinson’s patients. This network facilitates exchanges between the different disciplines and puts the needs of patients at the centre. The Programme for Dementia Prevention (pdp) is another initiative supported by the Ministry of Health. It aims to help people recognise and counteract risk factors for developing dementia.


Brand-new group dedicated to environmental studies

The LCSB welcomes its fifth FNR ATTRACT fellow, Associate professor Emma Schymanski. She leads the Environmental Cheminformatics group and works to develop new analytical and computational methods for identifying unknown chemicals in the environment and studying their influence on our health. She also featured on the “Top 40 under 40” list of analytical scientists compiled by a science magazine called The Analytical Scientist.

A springboard for students and young researchers

The 50th doctoral student completing a PhD at the LCSB defends her thesis. Our research centre attaches great importance to the education of young scientists and attracts talented minds from all over the world. As the fiftieth “doctor of science” is leaving to pursue her career, the LCSB is welcoming about 20 new PhD candidates. They will fuel several research projects and learn their trade under the wing of senior scientists.


Award for project on Deep Brain Stimulation

Dr Andreas Husch, researcher working at both the LCSB and the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg, earns an international award for his PhD Thesis on computer simulations for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). DBS is a surgical procedure, which entails placing small electrodes in the brain to relieve the symptoms of certain Parkinson’s patients. Positioning these electrodes is however challenging. In collaboration with neurosurgeon Dr Frank Hertel, the young computer scientist developed a software that helps to find the best placement for the “brain pacemaker”.

“Mini-brains” in the lab

The Developmental & Cellular Biology group has succeeded in developing 3D cell cultures – called organoids – that reproduces certain characteristics of the human brain. The LCSB researchers are now able to produce these organoids starting from skin cells donated by Parkinson’s patients. This opens up new possibilities for research on personalised treatment for Parkinson’s disease. These results are published in well-known scientific journals such as Advanced Science and NPJ Parkinson’s disease, and the project was also awarded a Lush Young Researcher Prize.

Top national prize

The Institut Grand-Ducal awards its Grand Prix 2018 in biological sciences to Associate professor Paul Wilmes for his research work on the microbiome. The jury’s decision highlights the quality of his scientific articles, his international activities, as well as his involvement in the development of several patents. It is also a national recognition of the importance of microbiome research in the country.


Joining hands with Japanese research

Representatives of the University of Luxembourg, the Luxembourg Institute for Health, and RIKEN, a renowned Japanese research institute, sign new agreements to further intensify their long-lasting and successful collaborations. It is the major step toward the creation of joint RIKEN Outpost Labs in Luxembourg. The LCSB will host one of these labs where senior scientists from Japan will carry out research projects on the role of the gut-brain axis in neurodegenerative diseases.

Investigating rare children diseases

One of the LCSB research group is part of a team of biologists and clinicians from all over the world studying a severe novel childhood disease: NAXD deficiency. Through their collaborative effort, they identify the genetic cause of this deficiency which leads to devastating effects in the brain and the heart. Their results are published in the renowned scientific journal Brain and form a solid basis to investigate therapeutic strategies.

Success for the Luxembourg Parkinson’s Study

A team of researchers from the LCSB and the University of Saarland receives an inter-regional prize for a project aiming to improve the early detection of Parkinson’s disease. The scientists have identified a number of promising molecules in the blood that could be used as biomarkers in future clinical diagnoses. This award highlights the success of the National Centre of Excellence in Research on Parkinson’s Disease which is now entering its second phase thanks to the continuous support of the Fonds National de la Recherche.

Understanding the fate of our cells

The Computational Biology group lead by Prof. Antonio Del Sol publishes several articles in high-impact scientific journals such as Cell and Nature. This team of computer scientists focuses on understanding what drives cell identity and how to better control conversion toward specific cell types. International collaborations are developing fast in the field and the LCSB scientists are working with research institutions all over the world, including the Gladstone Institutes in America, the Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Italy, and the Research Centre CIC bioGUNE in Spain.


The LCSB turns 10 – Looking ahead

As the centre is celebrating a decade of research in Systems Biomedicine, it is also time to plan for the years to come. Our mission has not changed - understanding principal mechanisms of disease pathogenesis and developing new tools to prevent, diagnose and treat - but new ideas have come into play. Beside working on specific diseases, the LCSB will strengthen its existing activities to study comorbidities, the links between different disorders such as diabetes and neurodegeneration. To connect the dots!