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Laudatio uitgesproken door prof. dr. D. Pipeleers

VOORGEDRAGEN DOOR DE FACULTEIT VAN DE
GENEESKUNDE EN DE FARMACIE

Professor Désiré COLLEN

Professor Désiré COLLEN is professor en directeur van het Centrum voor Moleculaire en Vasculaire Biologie aan de K.U.L.
Aan de K.U.L. behaalde hij de diploma’s van doctor in de geneeskunde (1968), licentiaat in de medische wetenschappen (1969), doctor in de scheikunde (1974) en geaggregeerde hoger onderwijs (1974). Hij verwierf eveneens het getuigschrift klinische biologie (1973) en het getuigschrift nucleaire geneeskunde in vitro (1975).
Hij werkte aan de K.U.L. als vorser van het nationaal fonds voor wetenschappelijk onderzoek, eerst als navorsingsstagiair (1968-1969); dan als aspirant (1969-1973) en als aangesteld navorser (1973-1976). In 1975 werd hij door de K.U.L. benoemd tot docent en in 1991 tot gewoon hoogleraar aan de faculteit van de Geneeskunde. Sinds 1976 is hij er eveneens adjunct-kliniekhoofd aan de universitaire ziekenhuizen van de K.U.L. Aan de V.U.B. was hij gastprofessor in het Master Program in Medical and Pharmaceutical Research van 1966 tot 1989. Als wetenschappelijk medewerker verbleef hij aan het Medical Center van de University of New York (1971-1972) en aan het Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (1972-1973). Hij is sinds 1984 hoogleraar biochemie en geneeskunde aan het College of Medicine van de University of Vermont en sinds 1987 visiting professor aan de Harvard Medical School en consulent aan het Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston.
Professor Désiré COLLEN ontving talrijke academische en wetenschappelijke onderscheidingen – w.o. de titel van doctor honoris causa van de Erasmusuniversiteit in Rotterdam –; hij is lid van vooraanstaande internationale verenigingen; hij werd uitgenodigd om state-of-the-art lezingen te houden tijdens belangrijke wetenschappelijke congressen en hij maakt deel uit van de redactieraad en van het adviescomité van meerdere wetenschappelijke tijdschriften.

Zijn wetenschappelijke produktie heeft sinds 1968 geleid tot meer dan 400 artikels, waarvan een signifikant aantal verscheen in de leidinggevende tijdschriften van wetenschappen en geneeskunde. Voor de periode 1981-90 werd Collens werk het meest geciteerd in het domein van de Hematologie.

LAUDATIO
FOR PROFESSOR DESIRE COLLEN

Désiré COLLEN is professor in medicine at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel selected him for a honorary doctorate on the basis of his pioneering work in the treatment of vascular thrombosis.

The scientific achievements of COLLEN have been previously distinguished by the Belgian Francqui prize, the Belgian quinquennial prize for Medical Sciences, the International Jeantet and Servier Prizes, a honorary degree at the University of Rotterdam.

The most significant award for his research is certainly the clinical application of the molecule which he produced between 1980 and 1987 with the aim of dissolving blood clots and, hence, preventing permanent occlusion of blood vessels. From 1987 on, this molecule, the tissue plasminogen activator or tPA, was tested in the treatment of myocardial infraction. In a study on [several thousand] patients, this new drug was shown to restrict damage and mortality when administered during the acute phase of the disease, and, importantly, to be more effective than other available agents. Presently, more than 1 million patients have been treated with tPA.

In her motivation to this nomination, the medical faculty of the V.U.B. did not only value the clinical success of COLLEN’s research but also the way this was achieved.

The scientific career of COLLEN has been oriented by his ability to make wise choices: first, as medical student, to become involved in research and to select a laboratory where clinically relevant issues were investigated under stimulating conditions – he started a project on fibrinolysis in the department of professor Verstraete at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven; next, as M.D., to continue with a fellowship of the National Fund for Scientific Research, seeking knowledge in basic sciences, more specifically in biochemistry, with fruitful training abroad, in particular with professor Blomback at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. After his Ph. D. in chemistry, COLLEN made the right choice in focusing on the role of tissue plasminogen activator in the physiologic process of blood clot dissolution. He isolated the protein, assessed its biochemical and pharmalogic properties and finally produced it by recombinant DNA technology. After choosing adequate industrial and clinical partners, he soon introduced tPA into clinical medicine. Rather than concentrating on the clinical and financial success of tPA and related molecules, COLLEN extended his basic research into the field of atherosclerosis, the disease which often precedes the formation of blood clots. At his center of molecular and vascular biology, he currently leads a team [of] 30 collaborators in projects and laboratories that can be considered as state-of-the-art in this domain.

Success in research is not only the result of vision and wise choices. For COLLEN, hard and efficient work, scientific honesty and team spirit contributed to a large extent. The combination of these properties has, in addition, the advantage of reducing the role of good fortune in scientific breakthroughs. They also made him “un désiré” for many institutions. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel enjoyed his contributions as guest professor to the Master Program in Medical and Pharmaceutical Research. The University of Vermont listed him for 10 years as professor in Biochemistry. Since 1987, he is guest professor at Harvard Medical School and consultant at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. At a time of increasing scientometrics – a concept introduced by Eugene Garfield, a previous doctor honoris causa at the V.U.B. –, the citation analysis of COLLEN’s publications could in itself be sufficient for respectful nominations. The world-citation list for the period 1981 to 1990 ranks him 50th with a mean of 1000 citations per year.

The honorary degree of COLLEN does not only express the VUB’s recognition of these signs of scientific excellency. It also honors the medical doctor who achieved clinical success through basic research. It applauds the scientist who – after success – further invests in basic research programs at the university. It turns the light on the type of scientists whom the medical faculties in Flanders can and should continue to generate. It finally symbolizes the mission of these faculties to praise their neighbour’s strengths and to collaborate through their strongest chains.

Prof. Dr. D. Pipeleers