Current projects

VIVACE: management of avian influenza in a vaccination context (2024-2028)

Funded by the Horizon MSCA Doctoral Networks of the European Commission

While outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) in Europe used to be rare and geographically contained, the situation has dramatically changed in the last few years with thousands of outbreaks reported in domestic poultry and wild birds. Despite being an intensive field of research, many unknowns remain as we are still struggling to predict HPAIV emergence, avoid viral spread and limit the socio-economic impact entailed predominantly by control measures. Vaccination of domestic poultry against avian influenza, is now being given full consideration, as it is becoming clear that traditional prevention and control approaches alone will not curb the accelerating pace of occurrence of devastating HPAIV epidemics. On October 1, 2023, France became the first EU country to implement a nation-wide vaccination campaign in ducks. However, vaccinating domestic poultry does not come without important challenges. VIVACE therefore aims at putting together a doctoral network to contribute to fully integrate poultry vaccination approaches into efficient management strategies for HPAIV. We will do so by unravelling the impact current and upcoming EU vaccination policies will have on avian influenza virus evolution, surveillance and control strategies and societal burden of HPAI. This will be done through a combination of disciplines from life sciences, epidemiology, computer sciences and social and behavioural sciences. The training program proposed here includes scientific and transferrable skill sessions, builds on the integrated added values of complementing expertise (virology, immunology, modelling, spatial and molecular epidemiology, social psychology, economics and policy), and full access to state-of-the-art technologies in excellent environments. The consortium gathers 15 universities or research institutes and 5 private companies, securing both inter-sectoriality and wide geographic distribution with tailored epidemiological and vaccination contexts.

ImmuReach: immunisation in DRC — reaching missed communities (2024-2027)

Funded by Innoviris

With an under-5 mortality rate of almost 8%, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has one of the highest child death rates in the world. Among the causes of death in children, vaccine-preventable diseases are still the leading cause of death in DRC. Multiple data collection campaigns have already been carried out in DRC to better understand the spatial distribution of under-immunised children – and more are planned in the coming years. The objective of this project is to take benefit from these campaigns to build operational models which help target under-immunised communities during vaccination activities. Specifically, we aim (i) to develop and validate spatial models to identify populations at risk of being under-immunised, (ii) to build on these models to develop and apply an optimisation procedure to allocate resources maximising the vaccination coverage of under-immunised populations, and (iii) to integrate modelling results into digital tools optimising resource allocation.

BE-PIN: the Belgian Pandemic Intelligence Network (2024-2027)

Funded by BELSPO

BE-PIN sets the scientific and organisational foundations for a multidisciplinary, collaborative intelligence network capable of addressing future pandemic and epidemic risks. We work towards better access to data, more advanced analytical capacities, and tailored tools providing important insights for decision-making and communication at federal and regional levels. We will identify the current gaps in data preparedness, validation and interpretation and provide the epidemic intelligence network with practical and technical guidelines towards a federal data collection protocol. In direct support of policy makers, we will establish an advanced analytical and modelling framework that generates the up-to-date epidemiological information they need for policy development, communication and justification. BE-PIN further contributes to a comprehensive theoretical framework for evidence-based pandemic management in the Belgian context and to the feasibility of quantifying carefully selected impact indicators. Moreover, a retrospective assessment of the economic impact and recommendations based thereon will be made to minimise this impact for future pandemics. Lessons learned from the communication practices for knowledge transfer during the COVID-19 crisis and the analysis of the visibility of (scientific) expertise in government communication, the press and social media, as opposed to misinformation and disinformation, will lead to recommendations for effective knowledge brokering. Finally, the governance of such a network will be investigated, more importantly the organisation of it and the legal operation. Throughout the project, stakeholder engagement, co-creation, international benchmarking and the anticipation of various pathogens and epidemic scenarios will be our main pathways to improved preparedness capacity.

LEAPS: integrating multi-disciplinary expertise in a learning and adaptive European pandemic preparedness system (2023-2027)

Funded by EU H2020

The 2014 Ebola epidemic and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have exposed a global need for accelerating research and efficiently developing countermeasures (CM) against pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential. Equitable access to measures is vital for an effective response. The pandemic also highlighted the immense importance of genomics for close pathogen monitoring or surveillance. However, genomic surveillance is slow and challenging to scale-up due to the complexity of building networks able to collect and transport samples, designing novel sequencing protocols, training qualified personnel, building sequencing facilities in low-income settings prone to emerging diseases, and obtaining additional funding from local governments. In similar terms, a Global Genomic Surveillance Strategy for Pathogens with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential has recently been released by WHO. Being at the forefront of COVID-19 genomic surveillance and in collaboration with the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), LEAPS aims to demonstrate how genomic surveillance can be optimized within an interconnected system. Therefore, we aim to accelerate diagnostics, vaccine/medicine development and to support decision making for an effective, efficient and quick pandemic response in an EU context. The goal of LEAPS is to demonstrate the value and feasibility of a pro-active policy supporting the strategy for EU-based genomic health surveillance and emergency preparedness/response, by delivering a system-wide stakeholder-validated proof of concept against pathogen X.

ULB Actions Blanches project: combining spatial epidemiology and climate science to assess the risk of arbovirus circulation in a warmer, wetter, and more populated world (2023-2025)

Funded by the Université Libre de Bruxelles - Main partners: Wim Thiery, BCLIMATE lab, VUB

FluCart: risk mapping of avian influenza in Belgium and analysis of the dynamics of exposure of poultry farms (2023-2025)

Funded by SPF Santé Publique - FOD Volksgezondheid - Main partners: Géraldine Boseret and Steven Van Borm from Sciensano

IDEAL: Impact of genomic data on marine mollusc Disease control (2023-2027)

Funded by the Agence nationale de la recherche (France) - project led by Maude Jacquot, Ifremer

Developing the field of landscape phylogeography to unravel the environmental factors impacting viral epidemics (2022-2024)

Funded by FNRS

The fight against high-impact viral diseases, such as rabies (~60,000 deaths/year), would benefit from a better understanding of the drivers of virus spreads, which could in turn help designing intervention strategies. Indeed, there is a need for analytical approaches allowing to formally test the impact of environmental (e.g. ecologic, climatic or anthropogenic) factors on the dispersal of viruses. Recent advances in genomics, mathematical modelling and computational biology have led to evolutionary approaches becoming key methods to investigate the spread of infectious diseases. In particular, the development of a spatially-explicit phylogeographic method has enabled to reconstruct dispersal history of epidemics on a continuous space, using only a relatively limited number of viral sequences sampled from known locations and times. However, this method does not model nor identify the environmental factors that may affect the dispersal process. The overall goal of the present research project is to unravel the impact of such external factors by bridging the gap between spatial and molecular epidemiology. Specifically, we aim to develop, test, compare, apply, and share novel approaches to analyse the impact of environmental factors on the dispersal history and dynamic of viral epidemics, as well as to test the impact of detailed intervention strategies. Once tested with simulation procedures, we will apply the best methodologies on several current case studies associated with notable wildlife and socio-economic impacts (e.g. West Nile virus spread in North America, circulation of Lassa virus in Africa and rabies virus in Asia).

Integrating spatial heterogeneity with temporal and demographic inferences, with an application to combating human rabies (2021-2024)

Funded by FWO - Main partner: Guy Baele from KU Leuven

Genomic analyses have revealed critical insights into the evolution and spread of pathogens, with spatial diffusion models having been essential to develop a field of research known as phylogeography, where phylogenetic trees are annotated with spatial locations. These diffusion models are however relatively simple, as they do not take into account environmental features when modelling the geographic spread of a pathogen. In this research project, we aim to develop new spatial diffusion models that accommodate spatialheterogeneity to improve phylogenetic reconstruction accuracy and realism. To this end, we will build on the time-measured phylogenetic methodology in the BEAST framework and adopt state-of-the-art statistical and computational techniques to perform efficient estimation of the evolution and spread of pathogens. To visualize the outcome of our reconstruction procedures, as well as to identify potential cases where environmental features may impact pathogen spread, we will develop a user-friendly and flexible web-based visualization platform that can easily be applied to different pathogens. We anticipate that this research will be essential to increase our understanding of the key drivers of pathogen spread and plan on exploiting our findings to develop a framework that allows proposing and evaluating potential intervention strategies to impact the spread of rabies virus, and by extension other viruses of interest.

MOOD: monitoring outbreak events for disease sur-veillance in a data science context (2020-2024)

Funded by EU H2020

The MOOD project aims to develop innovative tools and services for the early detection, assessment, and monitoring of current and potential infectious diseases threats in Europe in a context of global change including climate change. The MOOD innovations will increase the operational abilities of epidemic intelligence systems to face new disease threats, including emerging diseases of known or unknown origin, and antimicrobial resistance pathogens. The MOOD innovations will address the challenges of cross-sectorial data sharing and valorisation in a One Health framework based on cross-sectorial collaboration for animal, human and environmental health. End-users are the human and veterinary public-health agencies that are responsible for designing and implementing strategies to mitigate the identified risks.

MOOD project website

OneChick: One Health Poultry Hub (2019-2024)

Funded by GCRF

The demand for poultry products in Asia has been particularly fast in the last few decades, following urban growth, urbanization and increase in wealth leading to changes in dietary preferences. This very fast growth poses many challenges in terms of animal and public health linked to emerging infectious diseases such as avian influenza, to foodborne pathogens or to the overuse of antimicrobials. Small-scale poultry farming plays an important role in terms of livelihood and is an important source of protein and income to millions of smallholders. OneChick is a large multistakeholder project which aims to investigate approaches for sustainable intensification of poultry production in Asia. Our role in the project will be to work on the present and future geographical distribution of poultry production, demand and markets in the project focus countries: Bangladesh, India, Sri-Lanka and Vietnam.

OneChick Project web site

Past projects

XFAST: Biological characteristics of potential vectors of Xylella fastidiosa to support sampling and containment procedures (2019 - 2021)
Funded by SPF Santé Publique - Main parners: Applied Microbiology, Earth and Life Institute, UCLouvain

Mapping the transition toward more sustainable livestock production systems (2017-2021) Funded by FNRS PDR-WISD

PALE-Blu: Understanding pathogen, livestock, environment interactions involving bluetongue virus (2017-2020) Funded by EU H2020

GeoAccessHealth: The availability and accessibility of health services in space and time: analytical assessment, data integration and real-time visualization (2019-2020)
Funded by Innoviris - Main parner: Blue Square

MONODIS: Influence of the distribution, extent and fragmentation of pine stands in Europe on the distribution and abundance of Monochamus spp., the vectors of Bursaphelenchus xylophilus – a contribution to pest risk assessment (2019-2020)
Funded by SPF Santé Publique

Xyleris: Study on Xylella fastidiosa plant hosts and vectors in Belgium and the influence of specific plant growth conditions on disease development (2016-2018)
Funded by Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment.

Fungifor: Phytosanitary status of 8 fungi (+ 1 insect vector) infecting trees in Belgium: survey and evaluation of the risk of establishment (2015-2018)
Funded by Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment.

MAUPP: Modelling and forecasting African Urban Population Patterns for vulnerability and health assessments (2014-2018)
Funded by Belgian Science Policy STEREO-III programme.

Transmission dynamics and spillover of avian influenza under changing agricultural intensification and landscapes (2013-2018)
Funded by U.S. NIH NIAID Programme (1R01AI101028-01A1).

WILDTUB: Targetted surveillance of the emergence of bovine tuberculosis in Belgian wildlife (2015-2017)
Funded by Belgian SPF.

Mapping people and livestock (2013-2017)
Funded by F.R.S-FNRS, Brussels, Belgium.

Edenext: Biology and control of vector-borne infections in Europe (2010-2014)
Funded by FP7 EU.

AFRIPOP: Mapping human population in Africa (2009-2011)
Funded by Wiener-Anspach fundation.

Ecology-based risk assessment of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) in Asia (2006-2010)
Funded by NIH EID Programme (US).

EPI STIS: Remote sensing tools to study the Epidemiology and Space/Time Dynamics of diseases (2006-2010)
Funded by Belgian Science Policy STEREO-II programme.

Epidémiologie de l’Influenza Aviaire en Afrique (2008)
Funded by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The agro-ecology of avian influenza (2008)
Funded by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Epidemiology of Bovine Tuberculosis in Great Britain (2004-2007)
Funded by DEFRA (UK).

Comparing method for estimating spread rates of biological invasions (2006)
Funded by USDA Forest Service.