History of VIB Department of Molecular Genetics
The department has a long and dynamic history of growth and expansion. VIB DMG originated from the Neurogenetics laboratory started by Christine Van Broeckhoven in 1989, when she was appointed a Research Fellow of the National Fund for Scientific Research (NFWO) at the University of Antwerp (UA). Before its formal set-up and during the first years, the Neurogenetics laboratory has been working mainly on molecular genetics of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Charcot-Marie-Tooth neuropathy (CMT), in close collaboration with neurologists of the University Hospital Antwerp, like Peter De Jonghe for CMT, and the Institute Born-Bunge (IBB), a research institute with a longstanding expertise in neurodegenerative diseases, particularly neuropathology. The IBB harbors an impressive collection of biomaterials of patients with neurological diseases of central and peripheral nervous system. This resulted in the collection of large informative and well-characterized pedigrees of Belgian families with Mendelian inherited forms of AD and CMT, and after having introduced the new technologies of molecular genetics to the laboratory, in the first publications in the late eighties of segregation data for both diseases (Van Broeckhoven et al. Failure of familial Alzheimer's disease to segregate with the A4-amyloid gene in several European families. Nature: 153-155, 1987; Raeymaekers,P., De Jonghe,P et al. Absence of linkage with the Duffy blood group in a family with Charcot-Marie-Tooth neuropathy. Journal of Neurological Sciences: 145-150, 1988). In 1989, psychiatric genetics research on bipolar (BP) disorder was started in collaboration with the University of Brussels (VUB). In 1990, the laboratory of Neurogenetics was formally integrated into the IBB by the appointment of Christine Van Broeckhoven as Research Director.
The growth and successes of the Neurogenetics laboratory in the early years until its selection as a VIB department in 1996, were mainly boosted through substantial funding by the Flanders biotechnology company Innogenetics Inc. through a research contract for developing DNA-probes for inherited neurological diseases (1985 - 1994), and by its selection as Emerging Technology Center (ECT-04) in the frame of the Action Program for Biotechnology of the Flemish government (1990 - 1996).
At the time of the first VIB DMG site visit in September 1999, there were 53 members (48.85 FTEs) active in VIB DMG. The quality, relevance and performance of the scientific research over the first period 1996 - 1999 was peer reviewed on site by four international reviewers: K. Fischbeck (USA), M. Owen (UK), P. Propping (Germany) and S.S. Sisodia (USA). On the basis of this evaluation, VIB DMG received an overall rating of 'Very Good', and could continue as department of VIB for a second 5-year cycle. Its VIB budget was proposed to increase by near 110 %, initially foreseen to start in 2001, but postponed until 2002, with 2001 named a bridging year and the budget frozen to that of 2000.
While at the start of VIB DMG in 1996, the VIB funding was an approximate 25 % of VIB DMG's total budget, in 2000, it had dropped to ~15%, again highlighting the success of VIB DMG in attracting both national, international (e.g. European Commission, European Science Foundation, American Health Assistance Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association USA, Johnson & Johnson, Focused Giving Programme, Association Française contre les Myopathies), and industrial funding (Janssen Research Foundation, UCB). In 2002, with the new budget the percentage increased again to ~35%.
In 2005, at the second site visit over the period 2001–2005, we presented to the Department Evaluation Board (DEB) the achievements of VIB DMG in the previous period 1996–2000. The DEB2005 endorsed the new VIB DMG department structure proposed by the department director for the coming 5-years (2006–2010) with 4 independent research groups with each a nominated group leader. The DEB2005 advised to increase the budget of VIB DMG by 50% based on the continued success of the department, and the vision and quality of the research that outperformed the criteria set by VIB in the previous funding period.