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Luxembourg: a leading location for Parkinson’s research

Over the past two decades, Luxembourg has developed into an internationally recognised hub for science. An important driving force behind this development is Parkinson’s research. The Grand Duchy is now one of the leading locations for this field of research. This can be attributed in part to the FNR-sponsored project NCER-PD, the National Centre for Excellence in Research on Parkinson’s Disease. NCER-PD is so successful that, in 2019, the FNR gave the green light and six million euros for the second funding period.

This article was originally published by the Luxembourg National Research Fund

Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system, characterised by the premature aging of brain cells that produce the chemical messenger dopamine. Among other things, dopamine controls motor function, and thus the targeted and voluntary movement of arms, legs and other parts of the body. Parkinson’s patients therefore tend to lose the proper coordination of their movements, which also become slow. They can have difficulty swallowing. The ability to make facial expressions diminishes. Many Parkinson’s patients develop tremors, the muscle shaking characteristic of the disease. Their sense of smell and sleep patterns can also be disrupted.

Not all Parkinson’s cases are the same

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are highly diverse and differ from one person to another.

“We now know that not all Parkinson’s cases are the same,” says Prof. Rejko Krüger, the coordinator of NCER-PD, referring to the many symptoms of this disease. “It has become clear that we are dealing with not only different constellations of symptoms, but also different causes and many different triggers of Parkinson’s as well.”

These can be genetic risk factors or certain environmental influences, for example. In a small percentage of Parkinson’s patients, the disease can be traced back to mutations in a single gene. Researchers have so far identified 20 genes whose mutations can lead to Parkinson’s.

©scienceRELATIONS
Research for earlier diagnosis and better treatment

There is still no cure for Parkinson’s, nor is there any way to prevent or stop the disease. Yet, there are drugs and other therapeutic methods that can treat its symptoms well enough for many patients to live for many years with the disease. NCER-PD is helping to continually improve the treatment of symptoms, but the most important goal for the researchers is to find ways to treat Parkinson’s at its root.

NCER-PD is centred around a so-called patient cohort: a group of people who have consented to have their state of health regularly monitored by specialists over the span of many years. The participants give samples of body fluids such as blood or urine. They also take part in clinical examinations that analyse movement sequences and test their attention, memory, vision, speech and sense of smell.

1600 participants in the cohort

The cohort includes people with and without Parkinson’s disease. The regularity of the comprehensive examinations allows the researchers to obtain a precise overview of how each volunteer’s health status develops over time. From this, they aim to identify early warning signs to help diagnose Parkinson’s disease in its early stages, even before symptoms appear. They are studying, with scientific rigour, the long-term effects of certain treatments on the health of Parkinson’s patients. They are also learning what might be effective preventive measures.

The NCER-PD team and its many partners from Luxembourg’s research, clinical and ambulatory care sectors have been recruiting volunteers for the cohort since 2015, with great success. At the end of 2019, more than 800 patients and just as many healthy people had already given their consent. “We need these numbers,” says Krüger, “to ensure we can make representative and scientifically valid statements.”

Prof. Rejko Krüger ©scienceRELATIONS
Excellent review of outstanding scientific results

The monitoring of the cohort lays the foundation for the scientific work of the NCER-PD researchers and the publication of their results in respected scientific journals. NCER-PD’s track record is outstanding, as evidenced by an excellent rating from an international review panel last year. As a result, the Fonds National de la Recherche is providing another six million euros for NCER-PD until 2023.

This funding will allow the regular check-ups to continue for registered participants and to be offered to newly diagnosed patients as well. “We are furthermore planning two new risk cohorts,” says Krüger: “With them, we want to identify early symptoms of future Parkinson’s cases so that we can take preventive action when it is needed.”

Recognising early symptoms for prevention

The researchers already have the first clues as to what could be early signs; now they want to increase the level of confidence. They are looking for volunteers who have a specific sleep disorder, namely REM sleep behaviour disorder. These people talk or shout loudly in their sleep, sometimes also kicking and punching so harshly that even their partners suffer.

People with REM sleep behaviour disorder have a higher likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life. With the help of this first risk cohort, the NCER-PD researchers now want to gain a better understanding of this correlation.

For the second risk cohort, the scientists are approaching people who have a very specific mutation in the “GBA” gene. Every third person with a mutated GBA gene develops Parkinson’s disease. In the new study, the participants will be offered tests using MRI scans. This non-invasive imaging method allows researchers to visualise structural changes in the brain.

“We want to find out whether such changes already exist in people with the GBA mutation before Parkinson’s symptoms appear,” Krüger explains. “These would be very good early warning signs that would indicate the need for early therapy, and would thus clear new paths towards prevention.”

Researchers from NCER-PD were already are able to find early indicators of Parkinson’s disease using biochemical and mathematical methods. In cooperation with Saarland University, they identified molecules in blood samples from Parkinson’s patients that indicate the disease at a very early stage. These are called biomarkers.

“We already have many biomarkers in sight,” Rejko Krüger reports: “Now we are narrowing the list of potential molecules down to those candidates that can actually be used in future clinical diagnoses.”

Treatment methods in focus

During the second funding period of NCER-PD, the Parkinson’s researchers want in particular to make significant progress in the treatment of the disease. An important part of this will be clinical trials in vitro: new active substances will be tested in the laboratory on cells derived from tissue samples provided by patients who have a specific genetic predisposition to Parkinson’s disease. Promising substances from these experiments will then be developed further in clinical trials, with the aim of making them safe and effective for use in clinical practice.

Prof. Krüger underlines the importance of teamwork and thanks everyone involved for the results achieved so far: “NCER-PD’s success is based on the fact that, in Luxembourg, people from different institutions are collaborating in a spirit of strong mutual trust. Furthermore, we have a scientific infrastructure that meets the highest standards. This means we have a great opportunity in Luxembourg to lay the foundations for personalised, tailored Parkinson’s therapies.”

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Covid-19 taskforce Latest news

Survey about “social distancing”: What is our average daily contact with others?

You would like to help combat the current COVID-19 crisis? Take part in this survey and help researchers to find out how our social interactions and contact patterns change during the pandemic.

Why this study? Scientists want to find out how the current pandemic affects our social behavior. Specifically, the aim is to quantify the average number of contacts in the population at different times and compare them with previous studies and results. This data is important to include in forecasts, to generate better statistics and to better understand the spread of the virus as well as the effects of different measures.

Here the link to the survey (Surveymonkey).

The survey is anonymous and takes less than 2 minutes to complete. You are asked to indicate your gender, age and nationality, but no other personal data is requested. The results of the survey can be transmitted to research institutions, statistical offices and ministries in Luxembourg for analysis.

We do this survey regularly, in order to track the change in behaviour during the different phases of the COVID-19 crisis.

Many thanks for your participation!

Author of the survey: Joël Mossong, Ardashel Latsuzbaia
Editor: FNR

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Covid-19 taskforce Latest news

A first inter-institutional research platform for translational research

The University of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) have created a first inter-institutional research platform: the Disease Modelling Screening Platform (DMSP), a core facility for translational research.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that conducting strong translational research is key to combating the coronavirus. By leveraging cutting edge laboratory techniques to study patient samples, translational research quickly pivots laboratory discoveries into new therapies for patients, in a process known as the bench-to-bedside approach. Luxembourg has established excellent transversal and translational research, spanning several research topics and disease areas and integrating the results to provide holistic and meaningful insights that can tangibly improve clinical outcomes for patients. 

In this context, the University of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) have created a first inter-institutional research platform: the Disease Modelling Screening Platform (DMSP), a core facility for translational research. The platform is one of the instruments of the recently signed bilateral agreement between the University and LIH to cooperate through participation in joint research projects and programmes, the development of common research platforms, the creation of inter-institutional research groups and the collaboration in doctoral education.

Laboratories at the University of Luxembourg (Photo: ©Laurent Antonelli/Blitz Agency)

The highly translational dimension and purpose of DMSP are fully reflected in its governance and staff composition, which leverage the expertise of the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) on the one hand, and of LIH’s Personalised Drug Discovery research group and Transversal Translational Medicine (TTM) on the other. DMSP is currently led by Dr Yong-Jun Kwon (LIH), Head of the Early Drug Discovery Platform of the Personalized Drug Discovery unit, who supervises the implementation of several drug screening programmes on the LIH side, while Prof Dr Rejko Krüger, joint professor for Neuroscience at the University and Director of TTM at LIH, has been involved in the platform since its early conception.    

Indeed, the origin of the platform dates back to 2014, when Prof. Krüger joined the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg with an FNR PEARL grant and a mission to bridge clinical patient care and basic research, and ultimately improve our understanding of Parkinson’s Disease. The original idea was to create a more patient-centered approach and use patient-derived cellular models that were established in the labs to develop new treatments for Parkinson’s Disease in the future. An automation platform, established in 2016, applied a specific cell screening technique to discover neuroprotective compounds as part of repurposing already approved drugs.

Today, the ambition of the LIH-University collaboration on the DSMP is to make translational research sustainable. In line with the transversal and translational vision, the DSMP is no longer limited to Parkinson’s Disease. Indeed, it will also support research projects on a variety of different disease areas, such as cancer and pain therapy. The close interinstitutional partnership and trust between LIH and the University thus ensure the coherence and full integration of the activities of DMSP within the relevant LIH units and within LCSB, thereby enabling the innovative transversal character of the platform. 

“By using stem cell-based models we can test a large library of different, already FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved drugs, with the objective to repurpose existing compounds initially validated for specific conditions to treat patients with other medical indications. Aspirin, for example, was developed for headaches, but may also be used to prevent strokes”, says Prof. Krüger.

The cell models used in the laboratory help to understand and to modulate the molecular pathways. “When we observe that a protein is missing, for example, we screen for compounds that may bring the protein back. Or if we know that a new receptor plays a role in disease modulation, we investigate which drugs can selectively activate this receptor”, Prof. Krüger explains.

“The joint efforts between our research groups at LCSB and LIH and the ability and willingness of the staff of the two institutes to adopt a ‘one-team’ mindset have allowed us to set up DMSP as the first successful inter-institutional drug screening platform in Luxembourg. I am positive that our approach will continue to support the delivery of impactful results of valuable translational interest”, states Dr Yong-Jun Kwon, Head of DMSP.

“Our institutions have a common ambition: further developing Luxembourg into a renowned centre of excellence in research and innovation and to offer high-quality education to undergraduate and postgraduate students. For this, collaboration and pooling expertise are key”, says Prof. Jens Kreisel, Vice-Rector for Research of the University.

“The LIH-University of Luxembourg framework agreement builds on the deep trust and respect between the institutions, their leadership and researchers, which has been strengthened through Research Luxembourg, particularly during the pandemic”, says Prof. Ulf Nehrbass, CEO of LIH. “It is this coordination and alignment which will ensure international competitiveness for the years to come”, he concludes.  

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Latest news Luxembourg's ERC Grantees

Big Data that respects privacy

A mathematician develops new algorithms that allow the analysis of encrypted data without ever having to decipher it—a crucial point to ensure their confidentiality.

This article was originally published by the Luxembourg National Research Fund

The development of contact tracing applications during the COVID-19 epidemic quickly split society in two. Some were willing to sacrifice privacy for the sake of public health, arguing in favour of an app capable of locating people. Others demanded limited, anonymous, GPS-free solutions to avoid the spectre of an omniscient government.

The ideal would have been to combine the two and have an app capable of locating people who have been close to the virus carriers while ensuring that the data was not legible by the authorities. However, this idea would require algorithms that could work on encrypted data, a task that is impossible to achieve to this day.

“Sociological and psychological factors play a huge role in our cognitive reserve, meaning our capacity to resist the deterioration of our mental abilities,” explains Anja Leist. So far, scientists have identified factors explaining half of the differences observed in the population. A further 30% could be traced to factors such as education, social isolation, “This is one of the major weaknesses of current encryption systems,” explains Jean-Sébastien Coron, a mathematician at the University of Luxembourg. “Data is encrypted both during transmission and storage, which is good. But it has to be decrypted to be used in applications”.


Jean-Sébastien Coron © FNR / Rick Tonizzo

The French-born researcher is developing techniques that ensure that sensitive data is not only encrypted when it is transferred over the Internet but also remains encrypted when it is analysed. They would thus remain unreadable from start to finish, from their storage on servers to their passage through computer centres. Since they would never be deciphered, they could not be interpreted by the authorities or be compromised by a hacker attack.

Such an assurance of confidentiality would be valuable for any process that uses confidential information: the analysis of sensitive medical or financial data, the search for criminals without compromising the location of innocent people, or the certification of electronic voting without revealing the identity of voters.

“M$#,8T>;[A5;=;pr!”

For now, running an analysis algorithm on encrypted data would give a completely false result. The reason: encrypted information is, by definition, unintelligible. It is for example impossible to check whether a mobile phone was near the geographical point 49.6229485 North, 6.1102483 West when the GPS coordinates of the mobile phone are encrypted as “M$#,8T>;[A5;=;pr!” or to translate the diagnosis “colonoscopy: ascending colon cancer” once transformed into “Xdy19!aja£+T”.

The situation changed in 2009. Craig Gentry, a computer researcher at Stanford University, revealed a method of encrypting data that allows data to be analysed without being deciphered. Thanks to it, adding and multiplying encrypted bits gives the same result as if one did it on decrypted bits. Since these two operations form the basis of all computer logic, any algorithm can be run on protected data. This is the promise of this technique called “fully homomorphic encryption”.

One terabyte per 100 words

However, this approach remains more theoretical than practical, as the encryption process is far too inefficient: it multiplies the length of messages by a billion. Encoding a paragraph of text (around a kilobyte) thus generates an encrypted message 100 million pages long (around a terabyte). This explosion in the size of the data drastically increases the computing power needed to analyse it, and a one-second calculation would then take several decades.

“It is a very nice approach, but one that remains unusable in practice for the moment,” says Jean-Sébastien Coron. “Its lack of effectiveness is directly linked to its simplicity: instead of using complex mathematical operations, it simply combines additions and multiplications. As these operations are very easy to reverse, ensuring a certain level of security requires the use of an absolutely huge encryption key”.

The mathematician is therefore developing more efficient algorithms and has already managed to divide the necessary resources by 10,000. “This is a very encouraging result. My approach is both fundamental and pragmatic. I take theoretical processes that already exist and look for tricks to improve them.”

Encrypting artificial intelligence

The researcher also uses such approaches to encrypt not only the data but also the computer programmes that analyse it. This technique would be useful when a company runs its online programs in the cloud on commercial servers, such as those of Amazon or Google. Indeed, cloud computing not only optimises the use of IT resources but also creates the danger that the code itself could be stolen in the event of a security breach. One of his former colleagues founded a startup to use this type of encryption to protect neural networks, a particular type of algorithm used in artificial intelligence.

Questions about data security posed by Big Data and artificial intelligence require answers at all levels, notes Jean-Sébastien Coron. “It is one thing to allow a web giant to access our information; it’s another to have it taken over without our consent by other private or state actors, as we saw in the NSA and Cambridge Analytica scandals.”

The European Union has strengthened protections in 2016 with the General Data Protection Regulation. However, this cannot avoid problems and abuses, as data will continue to be pirated, and we will continue to approve – without reading them – licence agreements every time a new app is installed. “In such a context, constantly keeping the data encrypted would provide superior security,” says the researcher.

Despite his highly theoretical work, the mathematician is no stranger to the world of innovation, to which he has contributed some 20 patents: “I worked for six years in industry in the field of SIM and smart card security. I continue to work in this very practical field. For me, it complements very well my fundamental work on homomorphic encryption”.

About the European Research Council (ERC) 

The European Research Council, set up by the EU in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between grantees’ pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. https://erc.europa.eu/

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Spotlight on Young Researchers 2021: Early-career scientists, share your science!

Calling PhDs and Postdocs: through Spotlight on Young Researchers, you have the chance to draw attention to a field of research, a question or issue and share the work you are doing and why it is important. Deadline to participate is Monday, 22 February 2021.

Luxembourg has grown and developed as a research destination and is home to hundreds of early-career scientists, many supported by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR). An increasing number of young scientists are choosing internationally up and coming labs in Luxembourg. Many Luxembourgish scientists are also practicing their research across the world. We want to show the diverse range of important research going on in Luxembourg which young scientists are helping make happen. The research disciplines as diverse as the nationalities, we want to put faces and photos to the science. We want to tell stories, narrated by you!

We will use what you send us to write a story, which will be published on fnr.lu (and newsletter FNR Info) in a feature-format and promoted on the FNR’s social media channels (FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, Instagram) in varying formats. Stories may also be featured on this website.

Make it visual

Photos and imagery are essential to telling this story. Please include good quality photos in your submission, such as:

  • Photos of you/at work
  • Photos of your work environment
  • Photos related to your work
  • Photos of your work (microscopic images, things you are researching)
  • Videos / clips of your / you in your research environment are also highly welcome!

Consider how photos / images / clips can help illustrate the answers you provide in the submission form and help tell the story.

Finding the right language

With Spotlight on Young Researchers, we want to tell a story, narrated by you. This story must be understandable to readers who are not familiar with your field of research and therefore a lay tone is essential. Below the story, we have a dedicated section where you can go into more scientific detail.

Who is eligible?

Spotlight on Young Researchers is open to early-career researchers previously/currently funded through an FNR grant and/or researchers whose group leader is an ATTRACT or PEARL grantee, who at time of submission are at PhD candidate or Postdoc/Junior PI level (1st year PhD candidates not eligible). Both researchers in Luxembourg and abroad are eligible providing the criteria above are met.

Group submissions of up to 4 people are welcome – at least one person in the group must be FNR-funded.

How to participate

Please send the completed submission form and photos by email or (e.g.) wetransfer to Emily Iversen emily.iversen@fnr.lu by Monday, 22 February 2021. Submissions before the deadline are welcome.

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Latest news Luxembourg's ERC Grantees

Better schooling to prevent dementia 70 years later

Anja Leist wants to find out how to resist the decline of our cognitive abilities in old age. Her international research has already achieved a first result: improving education helps prevent problems occurring decades later.

This article was originally published by the Luxembourg National Research Fund

Old age comes with physical and mental challenges, including cognitive decline, dementia and ailments such as Alzheimer, which have few, if no cures. What if we could do something about it in childhood? That is what Anja Leist believes, a public health professor at the University of Luxembourg.

“Sociological and psychological factors play a huge role in our cognitive reserve, meaning our capacity to resist the deterioration of our mental abilities,” explains Anja Leist. So far, scientists have identified factors explaining half of the differences observed in the population. A further 30% could be traced to factors such as education, social isolation, cardiovascular risk and midlife depression – much more than genetics, which accounts only for around 7%. “This is good news because they do represent huge potentials in terms of preventing the onset of decline later in life.”


Anja Leist © FNR / Rick Tonizzo
The burden of unequal education

The researcher and her colleagues found out that reduced access to education as a child decreases that individual’s cognitive reserve in later years, a result based on their analysis of a large survey made of more than 40 000 people in Europe.

The participants were followed over decades, providing information about their health, employment, family background and education, and performing tests every few years to measure their cognitive abilities such as memory or verbal fluency years. The international team looked for associations in the data, including country-level socioeconomic factors such as GDP, human development index or education inequalities.

“All these parameters are tightly intertwined. The goal of our research is to untangle them as much as possible. Our analysis revealed the importance of education: all other things being equal, cognitive reserve at greater age is lower in countries having larger inequalities of education opportunities. The latter measures how hard it is for children to attain a higher level of education when their parents had left school early.”

“Education inequalities can arise from subtle effects, including the unconscious biases we all have. In Luxembourg, for instance, parents indicate their profession on school documents. While this information has nothing to do with the actual performance of the children, it might still have an invisible influence on the way they are assessed.”

Higher risk for women

The effect of education on cognitive decline is, in fact, driven by one subgroup: women who left school early. Their cognitive decline at old age is greater for country showing greater educational inequality. Anja Leist stresses that the school attendance counts, and not only the opportunities school favours or hinders for the subsequent years:

“Of course, having a fulfilling job which stimulates our brain will increase our cognitive reserve over the years. But studies could disentangle the two factors. They compared states in the US which changed the obligatory school system, making it last longer. This did not really influence the type of employment which people had later, but one could observe an increase of cognitive reserve years later, showing that the length of education counts.”

These results suggest that increasing educational opportunities for children growing up in less educated families could represent a good investment in the future, as it would both reduce the burden for those affected and their families generated by dementia later and its substantial societal and economic costs.

Artificial intelligence meets sociology

But these massive population surveys have not yet revealed all their information. To study the data in more detail, Anja Leist is turning to machine learning, a technique of artificial intelligence often used to analyse Big Data.

“Our aim is to find out whether one intervention – such as encouraging fitness activities amongst middle-aged women – really does prevent dementia. In an ideal study, one would divide participants into two groups: the first one going to a fitness centre once a week, the other staying at home. While this would allow for a very clear comparison, it would be too unethical to be made in practice because it would prevent a healthier lifestyle bringing proven benefits in many health aspects.”

Leist’s idea is to use vast amounts of data to simulate such comparisons.

“We can use machine learning algorithms to identify within survey pairs of persons who are practically identical for all parameters such as age, education, profession, etc. except that one of them goes to the gym, the other not. This will allow us to make what we call a causal analysis and answer the question: what would have happened to the second person if they had behaved like the first one and had started going to the gym?”

Ultimately, such analyses could help identify which prevention measure has a higher impact on which population group and help target campaigns towards the population group at risk.

“So far, we have no convincing treatment against dementia,” says Anja Leist. “I believe any promising way to prevent it should be looked at – including building educational systems that give equal opportunities to children from all backgrounds.”

About the European Research Council (ERC) 

The European Research Council, set up by the EU in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between grantees’ pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. https://erc.europa.eu/

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Explore. Inspire. Fascinate: FNR Science Image Competition 2021

Spanning four categories, the award-winning works will receive a 1000 EUR prize and will be widely displayed. Luxembourg-based researchers, collaborators of non-profit organisations, as well as foundations engaged in scientific activities in Luxembourg are encouraged to pick up their camera and document the – often unusual – environment in which they work and to share their passion with the public. Deadline to submit is Monday, 15 February 2021.

Photographs and images will be judged on their aesthetic quality and their aptitude to inspire and fascinate, to convey or to illustrate knowledge, to narrate a story, to engage the public to explore a new universe.

About the competition

The competition was organised for the first time in 2019 on the occasion of the FNR’s 20th anniversary. The awarded images were exhibited in Luxembourg City from September 2020 to January 2021, and printed in a limited-edition souvenir box.

For this second edition, an (international) jury will meet in April 2021 and award a EUR 1,000 prize in each category for the winning entry, as well as EUR 250 for each distinction. The award-winning works will be announced in June, displayed in an exhibition and made available to the public, as well as to institutions.

Learn more on General information and Participation rules on FNR’s website

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Covid-19 taskforce Latest news

Scientists call for synchronised curbing of COVID infections in Europe

Hundreds of scientists have called on European decision-makers to take steps for a quick, synchronised and efficient reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases across Europe.

Hundreds of scientists have called on European decision-makers to take steps for a quick, synchronised and efficient reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases across Europe.

The declaration which was published in The Lancet today was signed among others by :

  • Prof. Rudi Balling, Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) at the University of Luxembourg
  • Dr Jean Beissel, Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg
  • Dr Guy Berchem, Luxembourg Institute of Health
  • Dr Stefan Beyenburg, Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg
  • Prof. Conchita D’Ambrosio, University of Luxembourg
  • Dr Isabel de la Fuente, Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg
  • Prof. Dr Nico Diederich, Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg
  • Prof. Enrico Glaab, LCSB at the University of Luxembourg
  • Prof. Jorge Goncalves, LCSB at the University of Luxembourg
  • Dr Pierre Kolber, Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg
  • Dr Barbara Klink, Laboratoire National de Santé
  • Dr Monique Reiff, Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg
  • Till Seuring, Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research
  • Prof. Reinhard Schneider, LCSB at the University of Luxembourg
  • Prof. Alexander Skupin, LCSB at the University of Luxembourg 
  • Prof. Paul Wilmes, LCSB at the University of Luxembourg 
  • Prof. Skerdilajda Zanaj, University of Luxembourg

The signatories call for firm action to reduce case numbers quickly to low levels, to keep numbers low and to devise strategies for elimination, screening, vaccination, protection of those at high risk, as well as support for those most affected by the pandemic. The declaration argues that prompt and efficient action to curb SARS-CoV-2 infections will benefit public health, society and economy.

More than 300 representatives from research centres, hospitals, public health care institutes, universities and companies from across Europe signed the declaration.

Read the full declaration (available in multiple languages) on www.containcovid-pan.eu

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Covid-19 taskforce Latest news

Give your voice to help COVID-19 research

Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) is currently conducting a research project on the detection of COVID-19 via cough and voice analysis.

Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) currently has many areas of research regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.One intriguing direction of research is the detection of COVID-19 via cough and voice analysis to help emergency services identify critical cases needing rapid intervention.This is done with the use of artificial intelligence to detect a COVID-19 signature that can be present in voice and in coughs.

The research project currently being carried out at LIST is called CDCVA or COVID-19 Detection by Cough and Voice Analysis. While most Coronavirus diagnoses require a physical consultations, which increases the risk of infection for staff and patients, and consume significant amounts of health system resources, the CDCVA system can be done remotely.

This exciting research could eventually lead to rapid detection of COVID-19 just through a simple telephone call.

“Respiratory conditions, such as dry cough, sore throat, excessively breathy voice and dyspnoea, caused by Covid-19, can make patients’ voices distinctive, creating identifiable voice signatures, that may be discovered using our system”, explained the project leader Muhannad Ismael.

However, the project is still in the early testing phase and LIST recently launched an appeal to the public to take a five-minute survey that includes taking vocal samples via computer or smartphone microphone.

Reaching Luxembourg and beyond

Since then over 400 samples have been taken via the online survey, but more data and completed surveys the system receives, the more it can learn and improve in the battle against COVID-19.

Therefore, the move now is to not only appeal for more vocal samples in Luxembourg, but beyond the borders too, and with that in mind three more languages; Arabic Serbian and Portuguese, have been added to the list of languages the survey can be carried out in.

“We decided to add them to reach more people from around the world. The platform is now available in eight languages and we are open to adding more soon!” said Muhannad, before adding “now, our plan is to reach out the media outside Luxembourg. At the same time, we are looking at working with the health ministry to help us by informing COVID-19 patients of the survey.”

CDCVA is also supported by the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the University of Luxembourg.

Take the survey !

Would you like to take part? It’s easy and takes about five minutes to do. The survey asks you for some general information, before asking you to record saying “aaaahhh”, cough, and read a short text. Of course everything is totally anonymous. Full details are explained on the CDCVA website.

Choose link in your language

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Latest news [In the press]

Research Luxembourg Highlights: five-part series in Delano Magazine

Delano Magazine published in December 2020 a five-part series dedicated to research projects in Luxembourg.

Changing the property market through blockchain

“We don’t have time to waste”: solving plastic pollution

Paving the way for the future of mobility

Researchers provide hope in solving opioid crisis

Making the case for Human Rights due diligence

Changing the property market through blockchain

Researchers in Luxembourg are investigating how blockchain could be used to more effectively and efficiently manage homes sales and land administration, but as part of the process they are unpicking centuries-old systems and customs. 

“Private property structures our society, and the housing market is one of the oldest organisational structures in the world,” said project supervisor Sabine Dörry of the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER).

And it is a lucrative business. Real estate transactions reached $1.75trn in 2018, according to the latest data available from Property Forum, while investment firm MSCI estimated the global real estate investment market to be worth $9.6trn in 2019.

Doctoral candidate Anetta Proskurovska is studying land administration and housing sales procedures in three different countries–Sweden, the UK and Luxembourg–to analyse how they could be revolutionised by blockchain.

The technology would enable more flexible forms of ownership, such as fractional property rights, where only part of a property is bought or sold. And it would allow for safe, traceable and timestamped transactions along the value chain.

“The registration of a title looks like a one-step-procedure, but the entire transfer process is long, costly, and can actually consist of more than 30 steps,” said Proskurovska. “Blockchain connects all those things together in the same space.”

Proskurovska and Dörry work together with property group Grosvenor, financial services company Deloitte and the SnT, a technology research arm at the University of Luxembourg, on different elements in the administration process.

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“We don’t have time to waste”: solving plastic pollution

Researchers at the Luxembourg Institute of Technology are investigating how to make materials more sustainable, from experimenting with plant-based substances to extending the lifecycle of plastics. 

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental issues with around 11 million tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the earth’s oceans every year, according to the Breaking the Plastic Wave report published in October 2020. And plastic production is still speeding up.

“We don’t have any time to waste to address these issues,” said Daniel Schmidt who leads the green polymers research group at List. But going green and doing it sustainably aren’t necessarily the same thing.

“You can make almost any plastic you want from plants. The point is that you may need to spend a ridiculous amount of energy and resources to do so,” Schmidt said, for example using large amounts of water or food crops. And the bio-based plastic’s lifecycle might be shorter than that of conventional plastic.

“If you could imagine a petroleum-based material that’s very readily and repeatedly recyclable or reusable, that could very well be more sustainable than a poorly chosen bio-based process,” the scientist said.


Daniel Schmidt (r.) with members of his research team at List (Photo: ©List)

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Paving the way for the future of mobility

Researchers at the University of Luxembourg’s 360Lab are hoping to take their driverless car on the road in 2021 to test technology making automated vehicles safer by improving their localisation ability. 

The world has been inching toward autonomous cars for years. Google spinout Waymo in December announced it would open new testing centres to replicate dense urban environments after starting first road tests in 2017. And China’s AutoX this month said it was ready to roll out a fleet of 25 robotaxis in downtown Shenzhen.

“We don’t want to say we’re better than Google or Tesla. We work on niches,” said Raphaël Frank, who leads the research laboratory. One of the areas the scientists are studying is how autonomous vehicles localise themselves–technology that is critical for a driverless car.

The lab has teamed up with Silicon Valley startup Civil Maps, which develops high-definition 3D maps. “As humans, we have our two eyes, with which we can estimate distance,” Frank said. “A camera system has only one lens. It’s much more difficult.” Combining the information from the map with data from the camera system could improve accuracy.

The laboratory uses a test car for its research, equipped with the technology the team is working on. “Our researchers can get hands-on experience” said Frank. He hopes to take the vehicle on test drives on Luxembourg’s public roads next year.

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Researchers provide hope in solving opioid crisis

A discovery by Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) researchers offers hope to chronic pain patients as it paves the way for a new generation of drugs that won’t rely on the use of classical opiates. 

“There is a clear medical need to treating chronic pain, because you cannot really tackle this with classical opioids without important side effects,” said Andy Chevigné, who oversees the research project.

The US department of health, for example, estimates that more than 130 people a day die from opioid-related drug overdoses in the country. More than 10 million people are misusing prescription opioids such as painkillers, it says, leading the US to declare the crisis a national emergency.

The LIH team had initially set out to study a group of cell membrane receptors that “was so far really neglected,” Chevigné said. They ended up developing a molecule–LIH383–that could fundamentally change chronic pain treatment.

LIH research team Andy Chevigné, Martyna Szpakowska and Max Meyrath (l.t.r.) (Photo: © LIH)

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Making the case for Human Rights due diligence

As the government mulls obligations for companies to protect human rights along their supply chains, Başak Bağlayan from the University of Luxembourg weighs the costs and benefits of due diligence laws for the country. 

The issue was put in the spotlight in 2018, when an Israeli spyware firm with a seat in Luxembourg was linked to the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The grand duchy never investigated the allegations.

But work by the government on due diligence practices had already started. Bağlayan is part of a working group that developed a national action plan on human rights due diligence. She now has been tasked with a survey to examine the option of introducing mandatory obligations.

“I’ve been given eight objectives to research,” she said. These range from analysing reporting requirements in existing laws and what other countries are doing to liability and sanctions regimes and estimating the resources needed to implement such laws.

“The Union des entreprises luxembourgeoises is helping me reach companies,” the researcher said, as she is also trying to measure the compliance impact on small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as larger businesses.

“Businesses want a level playing field and they want legal certainty,” said Bağlayan. “We’ve seen businesses come out in favour of legislation, because of pressure from investors but also consumer pressure.”

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