VIB alumni return to their roots with an international collaboration

29 September 2017
​​A new paper on Fragile X syndrome published by scientists from the US and Europe, including VIB alumni Emre Yaksi and Bassem Hassan, inspired us to take a trip down memory lane. Why did these two researchers originally come to VIB, and why did they move on to explore new opportunities?

What motivated each of you to join VIB all those years ago?
Bassem: “Before I joined VIB, I had experience in the US as a student and a postdoc, but I wanted to start my own lab in Europe – both for a new environment and to be closer to my parents in Lebanon. At that time, VIB wasn’t well-known in the scientific community, but the amazing position, the enthusiasm of my colleagues, and Jo Bury’s enthusiasm about the future of VIB – and my role in it – was an attractive combination. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Emre: “I absolutely echo Bassem here about Jo Bury. He has this unbelievable energy that radiates out to the entire VIB family – from the directors to the PIs, postdocs, students and technicians. It’s almost impossible to not be impressed by this kind of ambiance at a scientific institution. VIB’s key strength is its community of happy, motivated people united in their quest for excellent, high-quality science. It was a major factor in my decision to join.”

This research paper is the result of a collaboration between labs of Neuro-Electronics Research Flanders (NERF – imec, KU Leuven and VIB) and the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research (CBD). Do you think the close proximity of these two centers was a benefit to the project?
Bassem: “CBD PIs, myself included, were part of NERF’s inception as well as the recruitment of Emre Yaksi, NERF’s first PI! This generated a very close and interactive atmosphere and shared sense of purpose that persists today. For this project, it was critical that NERF and CBD be physically and conceptually close to each other. The geographic proximity made it easy for the team to interact, and for the first author – the exceptionally talented VIB PhD fellow Luis Franco – to travel between the two labs.”

Emre: “I agree that proximity makes collaboration easier, but I don’t think it was a major factor that defined the success of the project. As Bassem said, having Luis o​n board, supervised by Bassem and myself, was crucial. That and a great personal and professional relationship between the two PIs – and our overlapping interests and complementary skills – were the main factors.”

Bassem, why did you decide to leave VIB? Do you still collaborate with your old VIB colleagues?
Bassem: “All good things come to an end, I suppose! After many great experiences and successes, VIB was becoming very familiar, and I found myself getting lost in the daily details rather than being excited by the big picture. Personally, I very much need change and become anxious with too much routine. I simply needed a new challenge, a new environment and a fresh start.

VIB will always be special to me. It’s the place where I built my career, and the things I realized there opened the doors to the many great opportunities I have at ICM (Institute for Brain and Spinal Cord) in Paris. Leaving was a very difficult and emotional decision and process. After all, I helped build CBD into the center it is today and few places in the world compare to VIB in terms of the quality of the science and the intellectual vigor of the group leaders. I still collaborate with my friend and colleague Dietmar Schmucker, and I maintain contact with Joris de Wit, Matthew Holt, Bart De Strooper, Jean-Christophe Marine and Georg Halder.”

Emre, what influenced your choice to move on, and do you still maintain connections with VIB?
Emre: “For me, VIB itself had very little to do with my choice to leave. I was very interested in moving onto the next stage in my career as a tenured professor, and KU Leuven was unable to provide me with such a position in the short term. As a result, I decided to look for an alternate institute that could offer me an excellent scientific environment and long-term prospects with respect to my academic appointment and funding. I feel very lucky that my current institute, the Kavli Institute for System Neuroscience at NTNU, provides me with everything I need.

Even still, VIB is very close to my heart, and I truly hope to continue contributing to the VIB family through future collaborations and other kinds of interactions, such as hosting VIB scientists or joining committees and boards.”

Franco et al., Current Biology 2017

Go back to the overview 'Stronger through diversity'

Bassem Hassan

Emre Yaksi