Leave your comfort zone if you aim for success

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Peter Carmeliet is the director of the VIB’s Vesalius Research Center (VRC) and a leading Belgian scientist who pushes the boundaries in interdisciplinary research and aims to translate new insights into new therapies. He is looking for new therapeutic targets in pathological angiogenesis, which happens for example when cancer cells release different molecules to encourage the growth of blood vessels that are needed to feed the growing tumor.

The formation of new blood vessels involves the tightly regulated process of recruitment and proliferation of endothelial cells. Recently Peter Carmeliet together with Sarah-Maria Fendt (VIB/KU Leuven) demonstrated that blocking certain metabolic pathways might be a good strategy to suppress endothelial-cell proliferation. This can stop pathological angiogenesis in cancer and other diseases. The study was published in Nature at the beginning of April .

This is the second metabolic pathway which has been explored by Peter’s group, and again they have had extremely successful results in the field of cancer metabolism with great potential to be translated into a therapy.  Peter only recently started exploring metabolic pathways. In fact, he talked some of his group into metabolism research only few years ago: “In research you must work very hard regardless of whether you are successful or not”, Peter explains.

“To become successful, you have to pick the right topic. For that you must know the field, have an open mind and be willing to take risks. When I told my students and postdocs: ‘We’re going to change fields and focus on metabolism’, I had hardly any support. At the beginning it was really challenging, because we had never done any research on metabolism before. The whole laboratory had to be restructured and reorganized. Not many people wanted to, or dared to do this, except for the few who actually made a difference. It took us 5 – 6 years before we were up to speed. Of course it might have been that we have been going along the wrong path, but we took the risk. For us, so far, it seems that we are walking a fruitful path, but the next coming years will tell whether we have made the right decision”.

Dare to jump into unknown, like Vesalius did. It might turn out that you have been going along the wrong path, but you have to take the risk. Go out of your comfort zone and do something that other people don’t.