Boehringer Ingelheim Award 2023


2023 Boehringer Ingelheim Award 

for Parasitological Research

Genetic Crossroads: Unravelling Sexual Reproduction in Parasites  

Frederik Van den Broeck from the Institute of Tropical Medicine receives Boehringer-Ingelheim Parasitology award 2023 


Frederik Van den Broeck, a biologist from the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp and the Rega Institute for Medical Research (KU Leuven) receives the Boehringer-Ingelheim prize for his research on the genomics of parasites causing infectious tropical diseases. His work involves collecting data on the genetic variation of these parasites to better understand their biology and evolution. 

Climate change, human migration and global trade are leading to more genetic exchange among various parasites. This mingling of genes makes them more resilient. Understanding and monitoring genetic exchange in natural parasite populations is thus crucial for developing and evaluating effective control strategies. Through his research, Van den Broeck has made significant contributions to understanding the details of sexual reproduction in parasites. His work sheds light on the broad and epidemiologically significant impact of genetic exchange in key parasites responsible for severe illnesses, such as leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.  

“In my current research, I aim to map the genetic variation of major disease-causing parasites in South America and sub-Saharan Africa”, says Van den Broeck. “My goal is to understand how human-induced changes and the history of human displacement have influenced the spread and epidemiology of vector-borne diseases.” He adds: “I am also committed to delving deeper into the viral diversity within parasites, aiming to gain insights into the emergence of endosymbiotic viruses and their connections to human diseases.” Van den Broeck concludes, “Ultimately, I hope that a detailed understanding of different parasite lineages and their viruses will contribute to monitoring tropical infectious diseases through genomic surveillance. 

Neglected Tropical Diseases affect over a sixth of the world 

Van den Broeck’s research mainly focuses on neglected tropical diseases, which affect over a sixth of the world’s population and their livestock. Despite their widespread impact, these diseases receive disproportionately less scientific attention compared to HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and COVID-19. By studying various organisms, Van den Broeck’s has made significant strides in understanding the natural diversity and evolution of parasites that harm human and animals. His genome diversity studies have also provided crucial data for tracking parasites, as a vital aspect of disease elimination efforts.