VLIZ Science Symposium: the Ocean and Human Health | Flanders Marine Institute

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VLIZ Science Symposium: the Ocean and Human Health

By organising a Science Symposium, VLIZ wants to bring together scientists around specific topics of its research agenda. The topic is highlighted from different angles by speakers with extensive experience in their research field. Through pitch presentations marine researchers get a chance to present the latest scientific developments about the topic. The VLIZ Science Symposium is an opportunity to exchange knowledge, build networks and start collaboration. On Wednesday 6 September, the VLIZ Science Symposium revolves around the central topic ‘the ocean and human health’. Five national and international speakers are programmed. Two of them are the laureates of the prestigious Prize Dr. Edouard Delcroix 2016, awarded the day before.


On Wednesday 6 September 2017 the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) organises its first VLIZ Science Symposium at the InnovOcean site. This symposium takes place between 09:30 and 13:00.


Meeting room Beaufort
Wandelaarkaai 7
8400 Ostend, Belgium
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9.30 – 9.40 Introduction
9.40 – 10.25

Prof. Dr Irina Vetter - University of Queensland
The pathophysiological mechanism of ciguatera

Ciguatera is a form of ichthysarcotoxism caused by consumption of many species of tropical and subtropical fishes from the lndo-Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea that have become contaminated by ciguatoxins, orally effective polyether sodium channel activator toxins that cause characteristic neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular symptoms in humans. Arguably, ciguatera is the most significant form of fish toxicoses in terms of the number and severity of poisoning episodes. The increased harvesting of tropical marine resources together with an increase in incidence, has meant that fish consumption is associated with an increasing incidence of human intoxication, making ciguatera the most common non-bacterial seafood poisoning and a significant health concern globally. Although it is known that the ciguatoxins are the most potent sodium channel activators known, the effect on the nine known isoforms of human voltage-gated sodium channels has never been assessed. Using cone snail venom-derived peptides, we determined the molecular basis of ciguatoxin-induced sodium channel dysfunction, which is expected to lead to improved treatment approaches for ciguatera.

10.25 – 10.40 Dr Paula Kellett - European Marine Board

What next for oceans and human health in science and maritime policy: a European perspective

In this presentation, Dr Kellett will introduce background information on the links between oceans and human health, the risks and benefits, and the challenges and opportunities they bring. The presentation will summarize the policy context for oceans and human health in Europe and will outline the work carried out to date by the European Marine Board in this field, presenting the 2013 EMB position paper and its recommendations, what has been done since then, and the next steps.

10.40 – 10.55

Prof. Dr Lynn Vanhaecke – Ghent University
The central role of modern analytical tools in studying the link between oceans & human health

A plethora of human activities (e.g. industrial processes, domestic households and agriculture) severely impacts our marine environment, and as a result thereof also human health. In this context, it is essential to acquire valuable insights on 1) the presence of potentially bioactive residues, contaminants and toxins in our marine environment originating from human activities, 2) the uptake, bioaccumulation and metabolisation of these bioactive substances by edible aquatic species, and 3) the health risks or benefits associated with human exposure to these substances and their conjugates. New tools for monitoring (i.e. passive samplers) as well as high-end analytical instrumentation (i.e. high-resolution mass spectrometry for profiling and fingerprinting) are indispensable to acquire a correct view on the status of the marine environment and its impact on human health. In this presentation, several practical examples will be shared that demonstrate this.

10.55 – 11.10

Pitch presentations

Dr Maarten De Rijcke – Flanders Marine Institute
Sea spray aerosols, a new wind in coastal monitoring

A growing number of epidemiological studies are confirming what appears to be common knowledge around the world: i.e. that human health benefits can often be linked directly to the proximity of oceans and seas. These health benefits are attributed to the quality of air and food, the physical and psychological advantages provided by the wide range of (cheap) recreational possibilities, and the constant exposure to immunological cues that boost the overall function of the human immune system. Here, we present a new methodology that was used to monitor the composition of sea spray aerosols (SSAs) along the Belgian coast during summer. Overall, these efforts aim to enhance our understanding of the natural variability of immunological cues present in SSAs and, hence, their contribution to the health benefits that are associated with blue environments.

Eng. Steve Huysman – Ghent University
Environmental screening of organic micropollutants in seawater by coupling a divinylbenzene passive sampling device and high resolution mass spectrometry

The abundance of organic micropollutants in water can be detrimental to the aquatic environment and its ecological health, resulting in severe consequences such as loss of animal habitats, reduction in biodiversity and intoxication - both acute and chronic - of organisms. Up to now, studies mainly report on the occurrence of organic micropollutants in freshwater environments, whereas data for marine environments are relatively scarce. Therefore, the aim of this study was to sequester polar to non-polar emerging organic micropollutants (e.g. pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides, natural and synthetic hormones) in the marine environment (harbour of Zeebrugge, harbour of Oostende and open sea; all located in the Belgian Part of the North Sea) by using a divinylbenzene (DVB) passive sampler of which the extracts are analysed by two in-house validated high-end ultra-high-performance liquid chromatograpy and high resolution mass spectrometry (UHPLC-HMRS) methods.

11.10 – 11.40 Coffee break
11.40 – 12.10

Dr Marjolein Vanoppen – Ghent University
Seawater, drinking water of the future?

While natural fresh water sources are being depleted and contaminated, the seas and oceans are a virtually unlimited source of water. There is one big catch though; to remove the salt, high amounts of energy are needed. The research of Dr. Vanoppen looks into more economical and sustainable ways to desalinate seawater and aims to generate fresh water from the sea available to water scarce regions all over the world.

12.10 – 12.25

Prof. Dr Jan Tytgat – University of Leuven
α-Nemertides, a novel family of marine peptide neurotoxins from ribbon worms

Ribbon worms (nemerteans) are marine predators, which capture their prey using a proboscis containing a mixture of toxins which brings on rapid paralysis. We have discovered a novel family of peptides (a-nemertides), of which one causes death in green crabs and targets invertebrate voltage-gated sodium channels at low nanomolar concentrations, suggesting a role as drug lead for novel insecticidal and anti-parasitic agents.

12.25 – 12.40

Prof. Dr Costantino Balestra (Haute école Bruxelles-Brabant ISEK)
From Breath-hold diving to patient’s bed: The normobaric oxygen paradox

There is a great concern regarding the increased need for blood products in an aging population and the cost of safe blood transfusion in developing countries. The use of blood red cell precursor enhancers like exogenous erythropoietin (EPO) is one of the alternative techniques to blood transfusion as it stimulates the hemoglobin and reticulocytes production in anaemic patients. In this presentation, Dr. Balestra, shows the first results of increased EPO production after intermittent hyperoxia through breath-hold diving, a process also known as the normobaric oxygen paradox. After the dive, the return back from the increased oxygen partial pressure is considered by the body as a drop of oxygen in the tissues and thus leading to an increase in EPO (similar to a stay at high altitudes). Dr Balestra was amongst the first scientists to report the possibility to increase EPO with a single non hypoxic stimulus.

12.40 – 12.55

Pitch presentations

Dr Geertrui Vlaemynck - Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Valorization of underexploited fishery resources: possibilities for contributing to human health and well being

Seafood is an important source of animal protein and naturally rich in valuable nutrients such as omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), vitamin A, D3, B12 and trace minerals (iodine, selenium, Zn) among others. The demand for seafood is still growing and implies a risk of overexploitation. However, there are still underexploited resources as low-value fish, fish waste/by-products and discards, sometimes up to 40 to 50% of the catch. These are often unmarketable due to various reasons such as for example unpleasant taste, presence of bones, size, etc. Use of these resources is still a great challenge for the sector requiring innovative technological strategies. Analyzing the composition of specific fish fractions such as skin, bones, head, viscera has shown the presence of n-3 fatty acids in certain non-fatty fish fractions. In addition, analyzing the effect(s) of various processing techniques indicated important differences concerning the effect(s) on nutritional valuable components. Various proteins, peptides, lipids and numerous compounds with bio-active properties can be recovered and used in high priority fields such as food, biomedicine, pharmaceutics contributing to human health.

Eng. Fien Minnens – Ghent University
Consumers’ acceptance of an online tool for health risk-benefit communication about seafood consumption

Seafood is widely recognized as an important component of a healthy diet. As we gain more knowledge on contaminants in seafood, concerns are being raised over the risks associated and there is debate on the communication dilemma concerning the nutritional-toxicological conflict. Although health benefits outweigh the health risks for the general population, there is a need for caution when it concerns more vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children. In order to tailor messages based on consumers’ profile and consumption pattern, online interactive tools grant new opportunities, with consumers increasingly using the internet for health and nutrition information.

12.55 – 13.00 Epilogue and lunch



All interested scientists are welcome to attend the VLIZ Science Symposium. The event is free of charge. We do, however, ask you to register at the following link. Deadline for registration is 1 September 2017.


Are you working in the field of Oceans and Human Health or are you interested in this research theme? Make sure that you do not miss the VLIZ Science Symposium on Oceans and Human Health. This symposium is an excellent opportunity to share and discuss your findings with fellow researchers. If you want to contribute to this symposium, please submit your English abstract (max. 2500 characters including spaces) online and get a 5 minutes’ pitch. Submission deadline: 23 August 2017.