Meet the Jury seminar: Search for origins of childhood cancer: Mapping 'molecular diary' of nature and nurture

25 May 2022
campus Diepenbeek

This event has already taken place.


Cancer is the primary killer among all diseases in children, but causes are not well understood. Childhood cancer is diverse and rare, so international effort is vital for bringing together data and biospecimen from many countries. Biological resources used in childhood cancer research have mostly been from clinical samples collected after disease onset. However, biological processes and biomarkers identified in these samples can be due to the cancer rather than its cause – what is known as reverse causality.

The period while a fetus is in the womb has a remarkable impact on human development, driven largely by epigenetic mechanisms – the molecular imprint of nature and nurture that shapes the different cells and organs. Unlike genetic mutations, epigenetic changes are potentially reversible, thus, offer interesting targets to prevent disease before things go wrong.

For this reason and because childhood cancer may have an in-utero origin, we have decided to travel back in time and collect blood samples from babies at birth who then went on to develop cancer later in life. In collaboration with partners from several countries worldwide, we use large collections of those samples to produce molecular maps of the DNA of newborn babies. Each map can enable scientists to create a molecular snapshot – sort of a diary – of early-life factors that the baby had been exposed to during pregnancy. In this talk, we shall discuss how combining epidemiology and cutting-edge laboratory science can provide unprecedented insights into causes of childhood cancer and guide future preventive strategies and personalized therapy.

This seminar will be given by Prof. dr Akram Ghantous, staff scientist at the International Agency for
Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization, in France. His expertise encompasses epigenomics and cross-omics analysis in cancer research, including large-scale and inter-disciplinary studies. After having ranked first in his home country Lebanon for the International Fulbright Award for PhD studies at elite universities abroad, he embarked on a greater challenge to contribute to re-initiating the PhD program in his country through the American University of Beirut (AUB), and he became the first PhD graduate from Lebanon after the program had been terminated since several decades of regional unrest. He then moved to IARC through its prestigious International Postdoctoral Fellowship and became afterwards a staff scientist in the Epigenomics and Mechanisms Branch. He has been an invited speaker at multiple international conferences and renowned institutes, and several of his publications rank top 1% in their fields, including those generated from low resource settings. His current research work focuses on biomarkers of exposure and cancer risk/prognosis using multi-omics analyses applied to cellular, clinical and epidemiological models.

This is a Meet the Jury seminar. Additional information on how to apply for these seminars can be found here.


For whom?

  • PhD students and postdocs in the Doctoral Schools of Health & Life Sciences or Sciences & Technology

When and where?

  • May 25, 2022 - 11:00-12:00
  • Campus Diepenbeek, building D, room H5


  • You can register through the following link

Acknowledged as?

  • DS ST: category 'advanced discipline-specific knowledge' - seminar from an external speaker
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