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In conversation with our young researchers: Natalia Zdanowska

Spatial inequalities.

Spatial inequality is defined as inequality in economic and social indicators of wellbeing across geographical units within a country.

How do spatial inequalities persist through time? How does history reproduce divisions in space in Europe?

Natalia Zdanowska is a Research Associate at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research. She focuses on cities, system of cities, economic and social geography. Her current research interest is on spatial inequalities in the city of Luxembourg.

Tapping into both geography and economics to understand spatial inequalities

As both a geographer and an economist, Natalia Zdanowska focuses on interactions between and within cities in a multi-scalar approach. The researcher is looking at spatial inequalities at different scales of a city – that is, between cities within a country, within cities themselves, as a result of firm economic activity and its direct impact on society, such as the rise of populism. Natalia also draws attention to how these inequalities persist over time and how history reproduces spatial divisions in Europe.

Currently, she is working on spatial inequalities in the city of Luxembourg. The project is commissioned by the city of Luxembourg and gives Natalia the opportunity to regularly meet with public policy makers to discuss her findings.

“My current project has a strong impact on society as social inequalities in terms of the topics we are addressing, e.g. demography, economy, housing, were very rarely analysed and mapped in Luxembourg city at a very granular level as districts or build-up areas.”

Natalia Zdanowska

Research, no matter what

Following a master’s degree in economics, she took an additional master’s degree and then a PhD in geography at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. She completed her thesis at the Unité Mixte de Recherche Géographie-cités in 2018. Before joining the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research, Natalia was a research associate at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London between 2018 and 2021.

More than a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the radical nature of the political and economic changes, characterised by integration into the world economy and the European Union, as well as by the recent rise of nationalism, continues to raise questions about the future of the Central and Eastern European space. Her thesis contributed to show that integration into the world-economy has been accompanied by a strengthening of polarisation logics, dividing the European centre-east space between the North-West and the South-East.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

Natalia Zdanowska chose Luxembourg because of the institute she is working in. “I knew about LISER since my MSc and I was aware about the research conducted by several experts in the fields of geography, whom I have the chance to collaborate with now.”

“Luxembourg brings very comfortable conditions for developing a research career especially for young researchers. Offering 3 year post-doc schemes is a very rare opportunity in Europe.”

Natalia Zdanowska

Luxembourg attracts people from all around the world

To Natalia, everything is very easy and reachable in Luxembourg. “Belval campus is 30 minutes away from the city centre and the public transport is free of charge. Paris is 2 hours by train. Luxembourg has very good flight connections as well and the airport is so close from the city centre.” 

“I love the fact that more than a half of the residents are foreigners and that everybody speaks perfect French and English and many other languages. This place attracts people from all around the world because it offers great opportunities for working and living. It’s not uncommon to meet people with multiple nationalities. That’s is an environment where I feel the most at ease being myself a multi-national person. “

Natalia Zdanowska

Read more about Natalia Zdanowska‘s research work.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Adnan Imeri

How can blockchain technology be used to improve trust in logistics and transport processes? Adnan Imeri completed his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Paris-Saclay (UEVE) and […]

In conversation with our young researchers: Erica Grant

How does dietary fibre intake affect the human gut microbiome? How can diet modulation be used as a translational approach to manage disease? Erica Grant, a third-year PhD candidate […]

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In conversation with our young researchers: Adnan Imeri

Blockchain in logistics and transportation.

Blockchain as a distributed-decentralised computing platform enables users to share, manage and monitor digitally signed assets through the smart contract.

How can blockchain technology be used to improve trust in logistics and transport processes?

Adnan Imeri completed his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Paris-Saclay (UEVE) and the University of Luxembourg, focusing on blockchain technology and its applicability in real-world use cases. His current research interest is mainly associated with blockchain technology, its implementation as well as its integration with the Internet of Things.

Blockchain to improve trust in logistics and transport processes

The transport of dangerous goods is very complicated to manage because of the risks to the human, environment, properties and living organisms. Currently, it suffers from a lack of efficiency, trust, and transparency.

In his thesis, Adnan Imeri proposed a new method for specifying the workflow aspects of the transport of dangerous goods by considering all stages of the process throughout its life cycle. This method aims to facilitate the specification of the transport of dangerous goods workflow process and management system that is fully based on existing regulatory frameworks ensuring compliance, trust, and transparency of all underlying processes i.e., before, during and after transport of dangerous goods.

At the Science Communication level, Adnan Imeri summarises his thesis for the general audience as “a novel method and tools to improve the specification of workflow in the process of transport and management of dangerous goods.”

“The proposed method aims to facilitate the management of workflow process and the trustful and secure sharing of information between collaborating stakeholders taking benefit from advanced technologies such as Blockchain, Smart Contracts and the Internet of Things”

Adnan Imeri

All the interactions in the real world between stakeholders are transformed into interactions in the digital world, while the interactions with the environment are achieved using IoT devices. The researcher’s approach allows interactions between system components, e.g. digital twins, IoT devices, only if it is in line with the regulatory framework.

Using the blockchain technology, the design approach allows for improved trust and transparency in the transport of dangerous goods process from the perspective of collaborations between stakeholders.

The technological capabilities of smart contracts are also a foundation of his solution. As such, the researcher’s work contributes to improving the semantic of smart contracts to capture supply chain management specifications as well as dangerous goods specificity in terms of transportation.

The transportation and supply chain of goods is heavily influenced by digital technologies, as are the logistics companies that provide them, due to their critical nature. Not only must these services be correct, but end-to-end traceability of the transport process must be ensured. The influence of advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain is enabling a new level of transparency and real-time verification of the transport process.

A blockchain researcher

Adnan Imeri’s research journey started in 2015 when his interest in service compliance with the regulatory framework spiked. After that, he expanded his research activities in different areas, to find new ideas on distributed-decentralised technologies, which were the most prominent technologies at that time.

After completing his Bachelor in computer science at the University of Prishtina in Republic of Kosovo, followed by a Master of Science at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, Adnan joined the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) in 2017.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

According to Adnan Imeri, Luxembourg is one of the most developed countries in terms of research. It allows new researchers to develop their research activities, thanks to many resources such as funding or access to research libraries, and a well-connected research environment.

“The surrounded research environment in Luxembourg is very supportive and allowed me to exploit different collaborations at national and international level.”

“It is an excellent research environment that offers the possibility of conducting large-scale research projects.”

Adnan Imeri

Read more about Adnan Imeri‘s research work.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Shuai Chen

How to maintain high social cohesion and trust in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society? Shuai Chen, a Researcher in Economics at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER), pays […]

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In conversation with our young researchers: Erica Grant

You are what you eat.

A diet rich in fibre is supportive to our health. Recent research indicates that bacteria in the human gut play a key role in breaking down fibre to produce the compounds involved in maintaining gut health. Yet, dietary fibre intake levels are well below recommendations.

How does dietary fibre intake affect the human gut microbiome? How can diet modulation be used as a translational approach to manage disease?

Erica Grant, a third-year PhD candidate at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), is examining the effect of fibre deprivation on the composition and activity of the gut microbiome.

One apple a day

Intriguingly, human enzymes are not able to digest most fibres. In fact, dietary fibre is not hydrolysed by human digestive enzymes, but is processed by gut microbes.

The gastrointestinal microbiota therefore plays an important role in human health. The Eco-immunology and Microbiome Group at the LIH, led by Professor Mahesh Desai, has shown that fibre deprivation leads to the proliferation of mucolytic bacteria that degrade the colonic mucus layer and increase disease risk. Based on this finding, Erica Grant is investigating the impact of the maternal microbiota and diet on immune development in pups using a gnotobiotic mouse model with and without a key mucin-degrading bacterium.

Gut microbiota is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals. They digest food and make key nutrients that influence individuals’ metabolism, immune function and even mental health.

The researcher is also conducting a crossover human cohort study to assess the effects of low fibre diet on host mucolytic bacteria populations and early inflammatory shifts. In this project, called Luxembourgish Fiber Cohort (Lux-FiCo), healthy participants are randomly assigned to either a controlled low-fibre or high-fibre diet and then, after a washout period to reverse any compositional changes, are switched to the second type of diet.

This research seeks to contribute to the knowledge of the consequences of a low-fibre diet and the role of certain mucolytic bacteria in the modulation of intestinal permeability and immune responses in humans. The implications of a better understanding and control of these interactions are vast, with relevance to the prevention and/or treatment of cancer, cardio-metabolic diseases and auto-immune diseases.

Mucolytic bacteria can be found in healthy humans, where they are an integral part of the bacterial consortium associated with the mucosa.

A biological researcher born

Erica Grant’s research journey has alternated between multiple overlapping disciplines including microbiology, ecology, and public health, settling on a niche field of research where microbes and human or animal health converge.

After completing a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Microbiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, followed by a Masters in Public Health (MPH) in One Health at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, Erica joined the Eco-Immunology and Microbiome team of LIH.

The giant plastic bubble is a critical piece of lab equipment where we culture anaerobic bacteria. It’s kept at 37 deg C and is completely anoxic, so essential for culturing oxygen-sensitive isolates from fecal samples, among other uses.

“I grew up in the mountains so biological research has always been something that I was drawn to. When I was looking for institutes to do my PhD, I knew I wanted something smaller and more intimate than what I had experienced in my undergraduate and masters training.”

Erica Grant

Erica’s research is part of the Microbiomes in One Health PhD training unit, which is funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund PRIDE. The researcher also got funding from the Personalised Medicine Consortium to conduct a major part of her PhD, namely Lux-FiCo. Finally, Erica was awarded the 2020 Pelican Grant by the Fondation du Pélican de Mie et Pierre Hippert-Faber. The grant intends to support her training and mobility activities in the context of her research projects on the gut microbiome. 

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To the researcher, one of the biggest advantages of pursuing research in Luxembourg is that you have access to resources that allow you to put in more—to try out new tools, to integrate different areas of expertise, and to aim for higher quality research than you might have produced otherwise.

While Erica came to LIH with a background in microbiology and public health, she was keen to expand her computational skills to gain greater research independence and to increase productivity in collaborations. Since then, Erica has been able to embrace the challenge of developing these skills further in part because of excellent infrastructure like ELIXIR-LU, available to students from all over Luxembourg.

@Alessandro De Sciscio

“The combination of expertise within the teams has been very beneficial for my personal development as well as for the success of the projects I have been involved in. Research Luxembourg fosters interdisciplinarity.”

Erica Grant

The researcher praises the outstanding infrastructure, specifically the germ-free facility. “It makes experiments involving gnotobiotic mice incredibly convenient. In other universities or institutes, it is not uncommon for researchers to have to commute to an hour to get to a germ-free animal facility. Being able to move quickly between the computer, the lab bench and the germ-free animal facility is a major privilege.”

An ideal country to recharge your batteries

Working hours in research can be long and unusual. As such, Erica Grant wanted to live somewhere that made it a bit more comfortable. Fortunately, Luxembourg is just that.

“There is great access to social services such as inexpensive healthcare, free public transportation, and housing or mobility subsidies that make this notoriously expensive country more affordable, even for someone on a PhD student salary.”

Erica Grant

One of her favourite things about the country has been the bike subsidy programme that the Luxembourgish government supports.

“Through this initiative, my partner and I were able to purchase high-quality touring bikes for half the retail price. Since purchasing these bikes, we have spent at least one day out on the cycle paths nearly every weekend and it has been a refreshing way to explore the charming Luxembourgish villages and countryside.”

Erica Grant

Combined with the free public transport, the researcher has been able to explore a variety of landscapes. They go from dense forests to hilltop castles where time seems frozen and gorgeous terraced vineyards along the Moselle river that invite a slower paced lifestyle. “These spontaneous adventures around Luxembourg strengthen my appreciation of what the country has to offer and, importantly, allow me to recharge after a busy week in the lab!”

Read more about Erica Grant‘s research work.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Matthew Flood

How can technological solutions provide clinicians and patients with effective treatment outcomes for orthopaedic injuries and diseases? What role can motion capture technology play in delivering quantitative clinical diagnoses […]

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In conversation with our young researchers: Rafieh Mosaheb

Quantum safe e-voting.

We are decades away from quantum computers to be around and capable of running quantum algorithms. But we can not wait for those computers to here.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made electronic voting options a reality. It seems like a logical step considering the many other daily activities, like banking and shopping, that we conduct online. Yet, e-voting presents unique challenges, including security. How to provide protection when e-voting?

Rafieh Mosaheb is a PhD student at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT) of the University of Luxembourg. With her thesis, she seeks to advance the state-of-the-art by building quantum safe e-voting schemes.

Building quantum safe e-voting protocles

Rafieh Mosaheb’s PhD thesis will focus on developing and prototyping practical e-voting schemes that are secure against attackers capable of performing arbitrary quantum computations.

Digital information and communication technologies, embedded in the fabric of modern society, enrich and make our lives easier. When used carefully, these same tools can also contribute to enriching and protecting fundamental mechanisms, such as elections, which are essential to the functioning of democratic societies. Indeed, elections are the foundation of democracy and as such, ensuring their security is of utmost importance. One of the main security challenges that needs to be addressed is the threat posed by the emergence of quantum computers. Despite the considerable number of well-designed secure electronic voting systems that have been proposed over the past decades, almost all existing systems depend on cryptography that will be broken by quantum algorithms.

Why Research Luxembourg?

After completing her master’s degree in Iran at Sharif University of Technology (SUT), Rafieh Mosaheb joined Research Luxembourg to conduct her PhD.

More about the Applied Security and Information Assurance Group of SnT in the University of Luxembourg

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Huizhu Sun

How can research help Luxembourg to maintain its international competitive position as a financial marketplace? Huizhu Sun is a Junior Research & Associate in the Luxembourg Institute of Science […]

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In conversation with our young researchers: Shuai Chen

Minorities and diversity in economics.

Most European Union member states consist of diverse societies, various ethnic groups, cultures and identities.

How to maintain high social cohesion and trust in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society?

Shuai Chen, a Researcher in Economics at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER), pays special attention to minorities and diversities in his research.

Economics and well being

Shuai Chen uses perspectives and methodologies from the fields of applied/labor economics and political economy to study how individuals respond in their well-being, behavior, attitudes and preferences to changes in their personal life and in society. His research is in diverse geographic contexts including Europe, the United States, and Asia especially China.

Sexual minorities in economics

Sexual minorities have been traditionally unexplored in the domain of economics. Yet, some economists have recently started paying attention to this group and have contributed to the small but growing literature on sexual minorities.

Discrimination and pressure from family and society often force sexual minorities to adjust their behaviours and thus respond differently from majorities. For instance, they may refuse to openly enter a partnership, be less likely to adopt a child, shy away from prejudiced occupations, and bear a higher risk of partnership dissolution.

His several research projects sought to explore the well-being of sexual minorities including whether there is a causal effect of partnership on happiness. With access to Dutch administrative data and by using same-sex marriage legalisation as a quasi-experiment, the researcher studied the influences of marital institution on sexual minorities’ well-being, partnership stability and mental health.

Partnership formation seems to increase happiness. Same-sex partnerships do not differ from different-sex partnerships.

Social capital and trust in economics

More recently, his studies have focused on social cohesion and political trust. Social cohesion and trust (towards institutions and between citizens) are instrumental to social prosperity, economic development and individual well-being. Segregation, whether on an economic, geographic, cultural or ethnic basis, undermines social cohesion and trust.

“Most European Union member states consist of diverse societies, various ethnic groups, cultures and identities. It is challenging to maintain high social cohesion and trust in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. Therefore, studying these topics is important and expected to provide some policy implications for local authorities.”

Shuai Chen

Marriage, Minorities, and Mass Movements

Before completing his PhD in Economics at Tilburg University, Netherlands, Shuai Chen obtained his Bachelor Degree in Economic Statistics from Xiamen University, Mainland China and got his Master Degree in Mathematical Statistics and Probability from Purdue University, USA.

His PhD thesis, entitled “Marriage, Minorities, and Mass Movements”, investigates (1) the effects of partnership dynamics on subjective well-being; (2) the symbolic functions of marriage on the stability of formal partnerships, both of them are with a special focus on sexual minorities; and (3) how economic insecurity and cultural backlash have shaped the current populist attitudes and preferences, and have triggered the populist voting behavior in the United States.

Following an academic visit to the London School of Economics (LSE), Shuai Chen joined the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research. In addition, he is also a Global Labor Organisation (GLO) Fellow and Research Affiliate at the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE), Rotterdam.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To the researcher, the Luxembourg institute he belongs to encourages interdisciplinary collaborations. Indeed, Shuai has worked in different sub-fields in economics each of which is closely related to another discipline such as demography, sociology, social psychology, and political science.

“The Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research provides junior researchers with opportunities and time to extend their own research. Luxembourg is located in the heart of Europe and hence convenient for the international academic communication.”

Shuai Chen

A multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society

Shuai Chen settled easily in Luxembourg. With almost half the population made up of foreigners, Luxembourg is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society, which appeals to the researcher.

“I like the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural environment as well as the gorgeous landscape and architecture of Luxembourg.”

Shuai Chen

Read more about Shuai Chen’s research work dedicated to Happiness and Partnerships.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Youri Nouchokgwe

Saving energy with electrocaloric materials.

Twenty percent of the world’s energy is consumed to cool our food, drinks, medicines and buildings. This energy consumption is expected to double in twenty years according to the International Energy Agency. For decades, vapour compression technology has been the most widely used cooling technology in our refrigerators and air conditioners.

The search for an appropriate option to the almost exclusively used vapour compression system is a crucial technological challenge in a context where energy efficiency becomes critical.

Youri Nouchokgwe is a final-year PhD candidate at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST). As a physician, he is looking for materials that can exhibit as much heat/cold as possible with less electrical energy.

Electrocaloric materials as an energy efficient and environmentally friendly solution

Vapour compression technology has low efficiency and, because of the greenhouse gases used as refrigerants, is environmentally harmful.

Electrocaloric materials are promising working bodies for caloric-based technologies, suggested as an efficient alternative to the vapor compression systems, used for refrigeration and air conditioning. Electrocaloric materials are insulators that can heat up and cool down when respectively applying and removing an electric field. However, their intrinsic efficiency defined as the ratio of the exchangeable electrocaloric heat to the work needed to trigger this heat remains unknown.

Recent findings have demonstrated that electrocaloric devices represent a more and more credible alternative.

As such, Youri Nouchokgwe studies the energy efficiency of these materials suggested as an efficient and environmentally friendly solution of replacement to greenhouses gases used as refrigerants. His main goal is to know how much electrical energy is required to trigger cooling/heating in electrocaloric materials.

“Improving the efficiency of these materials will help us to improve the overall efficiency of an electrocaloric system. Our work could help build future efficient and environmentally friendly cooling devices.”

Youri Nouchokgwe

Taking science and research to innovation by understanding physical phenomena

Before taking his PhD studies, Youri Nouchokgwe worked in research through internships. As such, he worked as a Research engineer intern in France. During this experience, he developed his passion for research and innovation. His experiences in research and development led him to take up a PhD.

The Cameroonian researcher admits that “taking science and research to innovation by understanding physical phenomena is what I like to do”. Throughout this process, he feels he can learn a lot, challenge himself and eventually get a rewarding feeling of accomplishment. This is one of the reasons why he joined Research Luxembourg.

Under the supervision of Dr Emmanuel Defay, Youri has conducted his PhD work in collaboration with different institutions and companies. Some of the samples he studied were from researchers in Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) in Korea and industrial company Murata Manufacturing in Japan. He also collaborated with researchers from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

“It was obvious after my postgraduate studies I wanted to learn more. Research challenges me, I learn a lot and I also have the feeling of being impactful in our society.”

Youri Nouchokgwe

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To the researcher, the priority put on research in Luxembourg increases motivation and brings experts in different fields from all over the world.

“Luxembourg is a very good place to work as a researcher. Being able to do research without worrying about funds is a luxury. Besides, the Luxembourgish government values research and innovation. This is evident through the outstanding research infrastructures, facilities, and doctoral training.”

Youri Nouchokgwe

What drove Youri Nouchokgwe to Luxembourg was his PhD topic. In fact, his research project received support via a CORE project granted by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR).

Under the leadership of Dr Emmanuel Defay, the research team, which includes Youri Nouchokgwe, has been working on electrocaloric devices, which could replace the refrigerators of tomorrow. This team has made a significant advance in the field: it has broken a crucial barrier by achieving a temperature difference of 13 degrees around the ambient temperature in a prototype heat exchanger, a new record in this field. 

Recently, the team received an outstanding scientific achievement award at the FNR Awards.

A fast-growing country

To the researcher, Luxembourg is a fast-growing country and a great place to work and raise a family.

“Luxembourg is an international and safe country, so as a foreigner here I feel welcomed. I have been fascinated by the number of languages people speak here. Besides, Luxembourg is a melting pot of people from different parts of the world and at the same time a human-scale country; where you are likely to meet people from different social status.”

Youri Nouchokgwe

More about the Ferroic Materials for Transducers group in the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Théo Antunes

Criminal law and AI.

Rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning raise critical questions about the benefits and risks to the criminal justice system.

The rise of artificial intelligence in our societies has gained momentum in recent years, to the extent that its use as a means of administering criminal justice has become more than science fiction, but a concrete reality.

Théo Antunes is a PhD student at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance of the University of Luxembourg. His research area is criminal law and artificial intelligence. With his thesis, he intends to tackle the flaws in the system, particularly in French law.

Using AI to administer criminal justice is no longer science fiction

Theo Antunes’ PhD thesis will focus on judicial independence and the use of artificial intelligence-based algorithms in criminal courts. Artificial intelligence, which is rapidly developing and spreading in all sectors of society, represents a challenge for European states, especially when using this advanced technology as a tool to speed up criminal trials and to help judges make decisions. It is also highly relevant to the broader theme of the challenge of artificial intelligence and the impact of its incorporation into criminal procedure law and the rule of law.

The principle of independence lies at the crossroads of the criminal process and the guarantees of the rule of law, its main objective being to dispense justice through a neutral decision, based on law and facts, without any interference from other branches of government or any other undue influence or interference.

His thesis seeks to explore the impact and challenges of the use of these advanced technologies on the principle of judicial independence, a cardinal principle of the rule of law and criminal justice.

It also endeavours to explore possible solutions to make the use of AI in criminal courts consistent with the principle of independence while preserving the different interests at stake.

Why Research Luxembourg?

After completing his master’s degree in Université Catholique de Lille, Théo Antunes joined Research Luxembourg to conduct his PhD.

More about the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance in the University of Luxembourg

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian

Breast Cancer.

Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in women worldwide. In most cases, breast cancer patients do not die from the primary tumour itself, but from metastasis to different organs.

Unfortunately, metastatic breast cancer cannot be cured but can only be treated to extend patient’s life. Therefore, a better understanding of metastatic process is an urgent need to improve patients’ treatments and to pave the way for a cure.

Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian is a postdoctoral fellow at the Cytoskeleton and Cancer Progression unit at the Luxembourg Institute of Health. Her research work focuses on Breast Cancer invasion and metastasis.

Understanding the metastatic process to improve patients’ treatment

Breast cancer develops when abnormal cells in the breast begin to divide uncontrollably. Metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced stage of breast cancer.

When breast cancer is diagnosed, the aim of the current treatments is usually to remove the entire tumour. But this is no longer possible if it has spread to other parts of the body, i.e. metastatic breast cancer. The aim of the therapy is to keep the patient’s general health and quality of life as good as possible for as long as possible.

Metastasis refers to cancer cells that have spread to a new area of the body. Breast cancer that spreads to other parts of the body is still considered breast cancer.

In her research work, Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian is striving to get a better understanding of metastatic process to pave the way for new therapies able to prevent or reduce cancer cell dissemination.

Research to help others and patients

Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian’s research journey started in the ” Viral Infections and Comparative Pathologies ” Lab in Lyon, France. As part of her master’s thesis, she used Drosophila Melanogaster as a research model to study the passage of retroviruses from somatic cells to germ cells, i.e. how an exogenous virus becomes endogenous and is transmitted from generation to generation.

Drosophila Melanogaster, a.k.a. the fruit fly, is used as a model organism to study disciplines ranging from fundamental genetics to the development of tissues and organs. According to various studies, the Drosophila genome has many similarities to that of humans.


The Franco-Syrian biologist joined Research Luxembourg as a PhD student, focusing on the role of targeting autophagy in enhancing the anti-tumour immune response.


Upon completion of her PhD, she joined the “Acute and Chronic Cardiovascular Insufficiency” INSERM lab in Nancy, France as a postdoctoral researcher, where she worked on vascular ageing. Now, she is part of the Cytoskeleton and Cancer Progression team at the Luxembourg Institute of Health headed by Dr Clément Thomas and focuses on Breast Cancer invasion and metastasis.

“Contributing to improve the quality of life of people, especially patients, is a driving force. This vocation gives meaning to my life. Moreover, doing research satisfies my curiosity and gives me the opportunity to learn continuously”

Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

For Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian, Luxembourg has excellent research infrastructure and state-of-the-art research facilities.

While her postdoctoral position is currently supported by télévie, she has always accessed funding to support her research. As a matter of fact, her PhD programme was funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund.

“I have seen since joining Luxembourg how the country supports research and how it is continuously developing in this field, while maintaining its excellent research quality.”

Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian

She was also successful in being selected for the Caloust Gulbenkian Foundation’s Global Excellence Scholarship, which supported her training and participation in various conferences throughout her PhD.

Stronger together: Collaborations make research more powerful

In Luxembourg, researchers are highly encouraged to collaborate. Since she has been at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian has had the opportunity to collaborate with researchers from other Luxembourg research institutions such as the University of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg National Health Laboratory.

“I work not only with biologists but also with researchers from different fields such as statisticians and bioinformaticians.”

Dr Takouhie Mgrditchian

More about the Cytoskeleton and Cancer Progression group in Luxembourg Institute of Health.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Adelene Lai

PhD candidate Adelene Lai at Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) is an environmental cheminformatician who develops workflows, algorithms, and software to help identify environmental chemicals. 16% of annual […]

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In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Matthew Flood

Biomedical engineering.

Walking, running and general mobility are key components of everyday life that are often underappreciated. The ability to move is critical for personal independence and sustaining a high quality of life, and when our natural capacity to move is impaired, our overall health, both physical and mental, is heavily impacted.

How can technological solutions provide clinicians and patients with effective treatment outcomes for orthopaedic injuries and diseases? What role can motion capture technology play in delivering quantitative clinical diagnoses of sport-related injuries? How can researchers harness the data from wearable sensors and digital devices to understand the impact of impaired mobility during activities of daily life?

Dr Matthew Flood is a postdoctoral fellow at the Human Motion, Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine and Digital Medicine unit at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH). As a biomedical engineer, his day-to-day research involves clinical biomechanical assessments of individuals with orthopaedic and sports-related injuries.

Technological solutions to contribute to more efficient delivery of healthcare

To Dr Matthew Flood, effective prediction, diagnosis and treatment is vital to minimise the impact of orthopaedic or neuromuscular disorders in the short term and to prevent secondary health conditions in the long term. His research aims to develop technological solutions for clinicians and patients that provide effective treatment outcomes and ultimately contribute to more efficient delivery of healthcare.

Pursuing this objective, he applies nonlinear signal processing and advanced data analysis methods to biomechanical and neurophysiological data in order to understand the mechanisms underpinning orthopaedic conditions and other movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

More recently, his research has been focused on gait analysis, i.e. walking patterns, in the clinic using motion capture systems, and in the real world assessing movement in everyday life using wearable sensors, called inertial measurement units.

Through wearable sensors, motion capture systems, and AI-driven smartphone applications, Dr Matthew Flood’s research looks for ways in which we can harness the latest advances in technology to provide more accurate and effective personalised healthcare.

Overall, Dr Matthew Flood has been collaborating with orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherapists at Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg and LIROMS to clinically assess patient recovery from sport-related injury using motion capture technology.

“As a member of a translational and transversal research group, I work closely with surgeons from the Dept. of Orthopaedics at Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg to develop collaborative research studies that utilise our technical and clinical expertise to bring about new and innovative treatment solutions.”

Dr Matthew Flood

Research to gain autonomy, expertise and purpose

Dr Matthew Flood’s interest in research was piqued when he started working with brain computer interfaces during his master’s project in biomedical engineering, completed in University College Dublin (UCD).

From that point on, the Irish researcher decided to continue in research, pursuing a PhD in electrical engineering. During his PhD he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to the motion analysis lab of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital at the Harvard Medical School. This experience provided him with opportunities to design novel medical devices like exoskeletons and explore their implementation with rehabilitation specialists in a clinical environment.

Since completing his PhD, he has worked on several postdoctoral projects on stroke rehabilitation at university hospitals in Dublin and Germany before joining Research Luxembourg in 2021.

“In my opinion, a career in research, and particularly biomedical research, is so rewarding because it offers autonomy, expertise and purpose.”

Dr Matthew Flood

The working environment in Luxembourg has also allowed him to pursue personal research endeavours, such as the development of a software toolkit for entropy analysis, a helpful tool for capturing complex patterns in biosignals such as electrocardiograms.

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

Luxembourg’s geography and economy create a combination that fosters close interdisciplinary research. With a large number of research centres of excellence comprising internationally renowned scientists and state-of-the-art facilities, Luxembourg is an ideal destination for researchers from around the world. To the biomedical engineer, “it is impressive to see how well science is funded and the importance placed on it by the state. With so many great research organisations in close proximity to one another, it is easier to have face-to-face interactions with colleagues from different research fields, and the more opportunities people have to meet up and discuss their work, the greater the chances of producing innovative ideas.”

Indeed, Matthew Flood points out that working in a triumvirate of researchers, surgeons and physiotherapists, located in close proximity to each other, allows them to interact and discuss their work face to face, an advantage rarely possible in research.

“By coming to Luxembourg, I wanted to pursue new and alternative areas of research while simultaneously discovering new cultures. In this sense, the opportunity to join Research Luxembourg seemed ideal as it is a multinational hub at the heart of Europe.

The transversal and translational nature of the Luxembourg Institute of Health was also a big factor as one can work to bring clinical research directly into medical practice.”

Dr Matthew Flood

About living in Luxembourg

Matthew Flood recently moved to Luxembourg and is a big advocate of the free public transport. “In every place where I’ve lived for the last 12 years, I have relied on public transport to get around, factoring in fares and times of specific routes when trying to get from A to B. But not anymore. With free transport, I don’t have to think twice about stepping on a bus, train or tram, which makes it much quicker to get around.”

“Being so international means that you come across people from all walks of life, especially in research. [As for the size of Luxembourg, it] is ideal for getting around to all the great attractions it has on show.”

Dr Matthew Flood

More about Human Motion, Orthopaedics, Sports Medicine and Digital Methods in Luxembourg Institute of Health.

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In conversation with our young researchers: Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez

Tumor immunology.

Most preclinical models lack effective immune system components. There is an urgent need to test new immunomodulatory agents for brain cancer patients.

How studying the interactions of tumor cells with tumor microenvironment can help immunotherapy in glioblastoma patients?

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez is a PhD candidate at the NORLUX Neuro-Oncology laboratory in the Department of Oncology of the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH). Her research mainly focuses on tumor immunology for glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain cancer.

Contributing to new cancer treatment possibilities

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez is developing effective preclinical immunocompetent models for glioblastoma, that can reliably predict tumour-induced immune responses.

Her PhD project is driven by the current need to develop novel immunomodulatory therapies that can overcome the lack of response to immunotherapy in patients with glioblastoma.

Immunomodulatory therapies

An immunomodulatory therapy treats diseases through the regulation of the patient’s immune system. In other terms, such a therapy boosts the immune system so it can find tumor cells in the body and kill them to effectively tackle the disease. 

Indeed, her project addresses the reduction and/or absence of immune system components in most preclinical models. This situation limits the possibility of testing new immunomodulating agents.

As such, the aim is to study the immune component of patient-derived 3D glioma organoids and xenografts and to investigate the interactions of tumour cells with the tumour microenvironment.

Patient-Derived Xenografts

In oncology research, xenografts are used as patient avatars to develop a personalised treatment. To do so, a small fragment of the patient’s tumor may be excised and subsequently grafted into an immunodeficient or humanised mouse.

The patient avatars are then being used to assess therapeutic options focused on the glioma microenvironment, thus providing reliable results that could be applied in the clinic.

“With our findings, we hope to provide the scientific community with robust models that will be relevant for future immunotherapeutics development and therefore could directly contribute to new glioma patient’s treatment possibilities.”

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez

Research to fight cancer

The Spanish researcher developed an interest in oncology early. After graduating in Biochemistry at the University of Murcia, Spain, she then earned a master’s degree in Molecular Biomedicine with a focus on Oncology at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain.

Before starting her PhD, Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez worked as a research assistant in a project focused on humanised preclinical models for renal carcinoma, i.e. the most common type of cancer.

She also obtained an accreditation to work with laboratory animals, and the Good Clinical Practice certificate to perform clinical research.

“Cancer hit a deeply loved member of my family nine years ago, my grandfather […] it was the key point that made me want to change the situation, I felt it as a responsibility to show my family there were people who cared and were willing to fight against cancer. This is the whole reason why I got into science and Biochemistry, because we need to make people believe in science and have hope again and I am happy to contribute with my tiny bit in that.”

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez

A member of the i2TRON project

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez joined Research Luxembourg via the i2TRON fellowship. This doctoral training unit is on “integrating immune strategies for Translational Research in Oncology and Neurology”.

The aim of i2TRON is to train next generation translational scientists to advance research innovations focusing on immunological components across model diseases, and to turn new mechanistic insight into diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to improve patient care. 

Overall, 20 experienced supervisors, including  four  physician scientists representing the focus areas,  join forces across the Luxembourg the Institute of Health (LIH), the University of Luxembourg, the Laboratoire National de Santé (LNS) and the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL) to bridge and translate fundamental and clinical research into novel strategies for clinical practice. Each partner institution offers specialised research expertise as well as access to cutting-edge IT-, laboratory- and clinical infrastructures and combining their domain expertise in a collaborative scheme to push the frontier of knowledge.

i2TRON is funded over a period of 6.5 years by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) through the competitive PRIDE programe.

Luxembourg fosters research collaboration

Since her arrival in her lab group, Pilar has realised that collaboration is the key to success.

“My lab is a very multidisciplinary and international research group, comprising experienced researchers and technicians with various expertise. The environment of Department of Oncology is also very collaborative. Our laboratory actively collaborates with numerous researchers in Luxembourg and abroad.”

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez praises Luxembourg for its healthy research atmosphere and international environment.

To her, Luxembourg managed to create effective connections between research institutes. It also gives the chance to work at different places according to the resources one need. “In my opinion it is very well equipped and a country that cares and invests in research, even more than other bigger countries in Europe.”

About living in Luxembourg

According to Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez, Luxembourg is a nice country to live in. In particular, she highlights that public transport is free.

“I really love the good organisation and coherence of Luxembourg in general. Everything seems to be put in place so the citizens’ life can be easier. The many different nationalities make Luxembourg a very attractive country with the possibility to learn from many different cultures.”

Pilar Maria Moreno Sanchez

Meet our young researchers