Guy Boeckxstaens

“The brain and the innate immune system”

Guy Boeckxstaens was born in Belgium in 1963. He obtained a Master in Medicine in 1987 and a PhD in Medicine in 1991 at the University of Antwerp, Belgium.

The research of Guy Boeckxstaens has been in the field of Gastroenterology. It has mainly focused on disease mechanisms. Guy Boeckxstaens set up research lines dealing with the pathophysiology of gastroesophageal reflux disease, functional bowel disease and postoperative ileus.  

The granted project of Guy Boeckxstaens is entitled: “The brain and the innate immune system”. In the first research line of the proposal, the anti-inflammatory effect of the vagus nerve will be further investigated. Previously, it has been shown by Guy Boeckxstaens that stimulation of vagal efferents dampens intestinal inflammation by inhibition of macrophages. In this project, the intriguing hypothesis is forwarded that the brain integrates vagal immunosensory information and as part of an inflammatory reflex activates the efferent vagus nerve to locally modulate the immune system. The mediators and receptors involved in the cross-talk between the brain (vagus nerve)  and the innate immune system (dendritic cells, resident macrophages) will be identified. The outcome of this programme will lead to a new anti-inflammatory approach for inflammatory diseases. The second research line will focus on the role of mast cells in stress-induced abnormalities in gastrointestinal function. It is hypothesized that mast cell degranulation, induces by psychological or mechanical stress, leads to increased intestinal permeability and activation of the innate immune system. The mechanisms triggering mast cell degranulation and the processes involved in altering gastrointestinal neuromuscular function will be studied in detail. This knowledge is crucial for the development of drugs to treat diseases such as the irritable bowel syndrome and postoperative ileus.

Guy Boeckxstaens has been nominated by the University of Leuven as a candidate for the Odysseus Group I programme. The jury concludes that Guy Boeckxstaens is a respected researcher in the field of immunity and combines fundamental research and clinical work. The project proposes the development of important clinical tools and promises new ways to treat diseases. Guy Boeckxstaens will continue his research in the world recognized institute of Internal Medicine, embedded in the University of Leuven, in collaboration with top researchers providing the project with complementary knowledge.