inSCIde the spotlight: Professor Ilse Dewachter Sep 21, 2018
Prof. dr. Ilse DEWACHTER
Memories, old treasures from the past that shape us into who we are in the present. Yet for some among us these treasured moments have really become ‘a thing of the past’. Alzheimer, often called the next great epidemic, is a terrible and irreversible disease in which parts of our brain stop operating. The result is devastating. Patients suffer from disorientation, memory loss, changes in personality and loss of speech. To this day there is still no cure, but researchers all over the world give their all day and night to find one, including at UHasselt.
GIVING PEOPLE A FIGHTING CHANCE
“I can still hold my dad’s hand, but I miss him every day” - Alice Wright-Stephens.
Every year new professors start their academic journey at Hasselt University. In ‘inSCIde the Spotlight’ we want to showcase their hopes, dreams and especially research to the world. Today on ‘World Alzheimer Day’ we aim our inSCIght spotlight at Professor Ilse Dewachter.
“Alzheimer is a horrifying enemy to face for every patient. Everything that you have built up during your life and what makes you into who you are vanishes in the blink of an eye. In just 8-10 years time your relationships, knowledge and memories suddenly disappear forever. To potentially contribute to a solution for Alzheimer and be able to give people a fighting chance against it has been my number one drive as a scientist” In order to achieve this Professor Dewachter recently founded a new group at the Biomedical Research Institute (BIOMED) to look for synergies with inflammation specialists.
MANY HANDS MAKE LIGHT WORK
“Some day we will find the solution, but it won’t be any time soon and it won’t be miraculously discovered by one scientist or research group. It will be the result of a vast number of scientists and the pharmaceutical industry working together.”
Many internationally renowned Belgian research groups, including the group of Professor Dewachter, are part of international consortia, huge collaborations spanning the globe that use the expertise of many in order to take the next step in Alzheimer research. Their focus lies on making advanced models together to create a better understanding of the disease development.
“The key for solving Alzheimer is hidden somewhere in the vast network of underlying mechanisms and everyone holds a piece of the puzzle. For example, our group is looking at tau. This is a protein that normally supports the microtubuli, the railroads of our cells that transport the substances that are vital to our brain cells. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Alzheimer”
HOPE IS OUR FUEL
The reason behind the complexity for Alzheimer research is the inaccessibility of our brain. As a result, researchers can often only study the progression of the disease indirectly. On top of that the progression is spread out over a time period of a decade, making it very difficult to assess newly developed therapeutic strategies.
Yet Professor Dewachter remains hopeful. “Though we advance slowly at moments, we have already taken some amazing steps forward in the past years through patience, discipline and persistence. Slowly but steadily we are gaining in on Alzheimer.”