Alumnus in the picture: “VIB opened my eyes” Doriane Lorendeau recalls her omics@vib experience

17 December 2018

Doriane Lorendeau started in the lab of Sarah-Maria Fendt in January 2014 as an ‘omics@vib’ postdoc fellow. At that time, she was convinced that the next three years would be a very enriching experience. “I thought a stint at the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology would offer a considerable advantage when applying for future academic positions,” she says. In retrospect, she got much more out of her fellowship than expected. Being at VIB opened her eyes. “A life-changing experience,” she calls it.

Why did you apply for an omics@vib Marie Curie Fellowship?
“When doing preclinical drug discovery work at the University Claude Bernard in Lyon, I realized that the effectiveness of the molecules we tested was highly dependent on the nutrient composition of the media, i.e. the metabolic environment they were analyzed in. That triggered my interest in metabolomics.”

“When the omics@vib fellowship allowed me to relocate to the group of Sarah-Maria Fendt in Leuven, I did not hesitate for a moment. At that time, metabolomics, particularly stable-isotope tracing-based technology, was booming in the cancer field, and began revealing its potential to drive biomedical breakthroughs. Investigating the changes in the metabolome and epigenome caused by gene mutations related to cancer resulted in a completely new field of study, but only a few labs worldwide had fully mastered the technology.”

“The VIB-KU Leuven environment shaped my expertise in metabolomics and allowed me, within a short period of time, to obtain results that we could publish in high-ranking journals. However, there was much more.”

What do you mean?
“The training opportunities at VIB also played an important role throughout my postdoc training, not only in my technological and scientific development. Their focus on soft skill development has been crucial for me. I was able to sharpen my communication and presentation skills, learned to conduct research projects in an interactive and integrated manner and acquired managerial experiences. But, maybe most importantly,
I realized that there were other opportunities in science than performing a traditional academic research career. I was amazed by the intense collaboration between academia, biotech and pharma companies here in Belgium. The existence of such collaborative networks was an absolute eye-opener.”

Is there room for a social life when you work as a postdoc in a competitive environment such as the VIB lab in Leuven?
“Marijke Lein, Lieve Ongena and Marleen Vanstraelen from VIB HQ sparked the creation of the Postdoc Committee at VIB around a core of motivated omics@VIB fellows. The objective was to launch events organized by postdocs for postdocs. It started mostly as informal get-togethers between a few omics@VIB
program fellows.”

“Although we were working at different universities, we had lively discussions about our research. We shared our vision on science policy and the issues related to career opportunities for postdocs in academia. And of course, we had a lot of fun together. As time passed, these meetings became  more structured, piloted by a more professional committee that attracted the membership of other VIB postdocs inspired by the initiative.”

You’ve worked for Janssen, part of Johnson & Johnson, since last summer. Moving to big pharma is not the most obvious step for an academic postdoc.
I joined VIB with the intention of gaining experience and returning to France to become a scientist or PI in an academic lab. But gradually, I realized that my heart was actually closer to drug development and the bench-to-bedside philosophy. The reason I went to big pharma is that metabolomics is still a young technology, and in industry, it’s mainly used in bigger companies.

“At Janssen, we are, among other things, interested in improving patients’ response to immunotherapy
and the substantial braking effect that the immune system has on chronic disease progression, but also on limiting the damage caused by inflammation in auto-immune diseases, for example. Importantly, these functions, particularly the cytolytic and anti- or pro-inflammatory activities of immune cells, are sustained and modulated by their metabolism and microenvironment. This is exactly where metabolomics can help us
understand the fine-tuning that occurs between metabolism and immune cell function. In the end, we aim to identify specific metabolic biomarkers of immune cell exhaustion or inflammation outbreak and druggable metabolic targets to activate or inactivate specific immune cell subpopulations.”

What is your ambition in the longer run?
“Putting metabolomics on the map in a company like Janssen and in the pharma industry as a whole. Achieving widespread recognition of metabolomics as a useful tool, just like genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics, which have become routine instruments in drug discovery in many therapeutic areas.”

Was there a specific reason you stayed in Belgium?
“Nowhere else in Europe can one find such a dense interaction between academic research centers, biotech firms and pharma companies, except maybe in Switzerland and the UK. This makes Belgium heaven on earth’ for researchers in life science and drug discovery. Belgium has become a hotspot for scientists from everywhere in the world. Perhaps Belgians aren’t fully aware of the value of the rich culture that they have created for life sciences.”

Go back to the overview 
'Talent pool for young researchers'​



Doriane Lorendeau ​