MAASTRICHT. The French cancer researcher Laurence Zitvogel is going to occupy the Tefaf endowed chair in 2019. In professional circles, she is well-known for her discovery that microorganisms in the intestines partly determine the effectiveness of cancer treatment. Occupancy of this chair changes every year and comes under research institute GROW.
Zitvogel (1963, Suresnes) is research director of the cancer research institute Gustave Roussy in the Paris suburb Villejuif. One of her feats is the discovery that the effectiveness of cancer treatments depends on the organisms in the gut. This applies both to chemotherapy and to immunotherapy.
In an interview for a journal, she explained that chemotherapy makes the intestinal walls permeable, which makes it easier for bacteria to spread through the immune system. That is the source of a lot of problems, including nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting. But at the same time, there is a favourable effect: the bacteria boost the defence system, making the treatment more effective.
In the case of immunotherapy, in which the patient's own immune system is given a push, microorganisms in the intestines also play a role. The composition of this so-called microbiome has an effect on the white blood cells, which in turn strengthen the defence system in the intestines.
Zitvogel is the thirteenth Tefaf professor. Her predecessors include top researchers such as Hans Clevers, Jan Hoeijmakers, and Nobel Prize winners Aaron Ciechanover and Harald Zur Hausen. The candidate from 2010, Catherine Verfaillie, is momentarily involved in a scandal. The director of the Stem Cell institute in Leuven has allegedly used altered images from the lab. The KU Leuven will set up an investigation.
The Tefaf professors usually give their inaugural lecture during the art fair, but Zitvogel won't be able to manage that. She will deliver her speech beforehand, on 18 February. She will, however, participate in the Tefaf symposium, Women in Science on 9 March. Also attending will be the present Tefaf professor, cell biologist Lisa Coussens, rector Rianne Letschert, and her colleague from Eindhoven, Frank Baaijens. Baaijens recently decided to make permanent academic posts initially only available to women.