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G. Van Minnebruggen, Ph.D.

Integration Manager  |  VIB - Flanders, Belgium

Supporting Bridges to Translational Research and Systems Biology

VIB is a life sciences research institute in Flanders, Belgium with more than 1250 scientists focused on translating basic scientific results into pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial applications. Working in partnership with four Flemish universities - scientists and technologists working with VIB hold dual affiliations with the institute and a university. With its decentralized model, the institute works to unite teams of researchers into more than 70 research groups organized into eight departments.

The job of building those bridges for collaborative research programs and acquiring advanced technologies to support translational and systems biology is a responsibility held by Geert Van Minnebruggen, Ph.D., Integration Manager at VIB. “Excellence is our main driver, and that applies to our scientists as well as to the technologies we acquire. When you strive to be excellent, you need to assure access to cutting edge technology platforms,” he says.

In 2009, Dr. Van Minnebruggen was looking for new technologies to supplement VIB’s microarray core. Bringing in NanoString Technologies at that time was a step in moving away from microarrays and having a robust way to validate gene signatures in many samples, explains Dr. Van Minnebruggen. “Today, we have had the nCounter Analysis System within our walls for two years and I am still impressed by the ease, simplicity and robustness,” he says.

While he says it is always a challenge to get scientists to adopt a new technology, once researchers began using the nCounter assays they began spreading the word from one lab to another about the great data they were getting. “Now we are using the instrument every day, and every week we have scientists coming in wanting to do new experiments with the technology. We have 20-30 projects on the waitlist right now,” he adds. “The NanoString technology is making a real impact in our science.”

In addition to the high quality gene expression and microRNA data they are generating with the nCounter system, Dr. Van Minnebruggen says one of the most appealing things about the technology for the scientists is its simplicity. “NanoString’s technology is really simple and straight-forward, and that is the most powerful thing to have. Scientists don’t want complicated technology with a lot of protocols. Most brilliant minds need a very simple technology that comes to a very clear answer. That’s what NanoString has."

Before joining VIB, Dr. Van Minnebruggen spent time in the pharmaceutical industry where he gained in depth knowledge of what it takes to bring a discovery through the various phases from early toxicology to clinical development. “At VIB, our scientists are delving into fundamental molecular mechanisms, but a certain time we need to move through the translational process to bring fundamental findings to the patient and the clinic or the diagnostic market,” he added.

As for the type of projects being run on the nCounter system, they span many VIB departments and include supporting the VIB’s world renowned scientists in plant science and Alzheimer’s disease.

One focus of the plant science program is working with Poplar trees to find higher energy biomass. “We started with fundamental research and now we are already doing translational research with field trials in our own Poplar fields,” he explains. “We have evidence that our genetically modified Poplar trees are doubling the energy of the wild type. This is real green energy and we think it could be a very big market.”