KU Leuven: KU Leuven Institute LISCO unravels the secrets of the cell

The KU Leuven Institute for Single-Cell Omics brings scientists from different disciplines together for groundbreaking research into individual cells. Their approach can provide new insights into normal development, aging and disease processes in humans and other multicellular organisms, as well as the biology of bacteria and other unicellular life forms.

LISCO revolves around a relatively new technology called single-cell omics that has accelerated research into individual cells. “The technology is still in its infancy, but the enormous potential is already clear,” says Thierry Voet, director of the Department of Human Genetics.


Thierry Voet | © KU Leuven – Rob Stevens
For example, relatively little is known about cell types, and single-cell technology can change that. “With the new methods we can identify and analyze much more systematically cell types based on their gene expression profile,” explains Professor Voet. “In addition, we can also study on a larger scale how cell types change over time, which in turn provides new insights into aging processes and the diseases that can accompany them, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We can also investigate which cell types are susceptible to COVID-19 and other diseases, and how cell types change under the influence of drugs. The latter could teach us how some tumor cells adapt to chemo, so that the treatment no longer works, and how we can prevent that.

Several LISCO members are already involved in large-scale international projects to map the human body at the cellular level, for both health and disease. In time, scientists hope to have a cell atlas for a wide range of organisms: not only humans, but also animals, plants, and even bacterial communities. Professor Voet: “We already play an important role in these large-scale projects, and our recognition as KU Leuven Institute can further strengthen our position.”

You could never realize LISCO’s ambitions in an individual lab, continues Professor Voet. “Molecular biology, (bio) chemistry, photonics, microfluidics, bioinformatics, oncology, neuroscience, developmental biology: these are just a few of the many disciplines represented in our Institute. And for the ethical and legal aspects of cell research, among other things, we work together with ethicists, lawyers and sociologists. Furthermore, many of our members are also affiliated with VIB and UZ Leuven. All this expertise together makes LISCO a cross-section of top researchers from very different backgrounds. ”

LISCO wants to apply and refine existing single-cell technologies, but also develop new methods itself. “In addition, we always want to make the translation to valorisation,” continues Professor Voet. “In a clinical context, our insights and methods can, for example, contribute to diagnoses and personalized medicine. The establishment of spin-offs is also on the agenda. Finally, we also want to train the next generation of researchers by developing an educational program. ”

KU Leuven Institutes as an organizational form for interdisciplinary research
KU Leuven’s Strategic Plan is strongly committed to interdisciplinarity, including through the establishment of KU Leuven Institutes. Several KU Leuven Institutes have already received recognition.

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