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Rega Institute moves to cutting edge laboratory

11 September 2017

As of Wednesday 13 September, the Rega Institute will no longer be found at its trusty address in the Minderbroedersstraat. The center for Microbiology, Immunology and Medicinal Chemistry moves to a brand new building at Campus Gasthuisberg. The faculty of medicine will also be awarding dr. John Martin with an honorary doctorate for his work in developing the world's most widely used anti-hiv medicine.

It was professor and later on rector Pieter De Somer who focused on the production on penicilline during the second World War. It became a success and De Somer managed to convince the Walloon company R.I.T. (Recherche et Industrie Thérapeutique) to invest in the construction of a laboratory for biomedical research: the Rega Institue.


© KU Leuven – Rob Stevens

Ever since its foundation in 1954, the Rega Institute has played a leading role in the fight against bacterial and viral infections. Thanks to the institute, Belgium was one of the first countries in the world able to launch a national vaccination campaign against polio in 1958. In the 90's, the Rega Institute was the center of attention again when Rega researchers in cooperation with a laboratory from Prague, proved the inhibiting effect of tenofovir on hiv. Ever since 2001, it's the world's most widely used anti-hiv medicine.

Highest biosafety level in the world

© KU Leuven – Rob Stevens

On September 13, the Rega Institute takes another step in its rich history by moving to Campus Gasthuisberg, a move which was imposed upon for some time: "The building in the Minderbroedersstraat is showing signs of age and doesn't offer enough space for all of our research groups", professor virology Johan Neyts mentions. "There is just not enough space in the center of the city to install the most modern equipment for biomedical research."

The showpiece of the new building is the high-biosafety laboratory, measuring a whopping 600 m². The closer you get to the core of the laboratory, the higher the biosafety level goes. Currently, the laboratory operates at level two, where fairly 'safe' viruses such as hiv are studied. At level three, viruses like zika are studied. The laboratory also houses a lab-in-a-box, an airtight, fully automatic laboratory at biosafety level four, the world's highest, where extremely pathogenic micro-organisms such as ebola are studied - as well as development of therapeutic options against them - around the clock and every day of the week.

Honorary doctorate

© KU Leuven – Anja Symons

The official opening also proves to be the perfect moment for awarding an honorary doctorate to dr. John Martin. The American doctor is praised for his role in the development of tenofovir. "John Martin and his company Gilead Sciences are responsible for the industrial production and distribution of the anti-hiv medicine", professor Neyts mentions. "Martin has always strived to offer developing nations the medicine for nearly its production cost. As of now, about 10 million patients in third world countries receive an hiv-therapy based upon tenofovir. This honorary doctorate emphasizes his great scientific and societal contribution."

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