A bioinformatician’s quest to fight cancer

By Rose Gregorio

Christophe Van Neste is a new postdoctoral fellow in the Knowledge Mining Lab (KML) led by Professor Vladimir Bajic.

Originally from Belgium, he decided to come to KAUST in order to improve his computational techniques and advanced programming skills.

"I used to work in a wet lab back in Ghent University in Belgium," he said. "I was the only bioinformatician there and I was looking for a computational group so that I could work with colleagues that are more focused on the work that I do. I joined Professor Bajic's group because I really wanted to strengthen my knowledge in text mining and machine learning."

In KML, one of Christophe's main tasks is to use a platform he created, Genairics, to analyze specific mutations in genome samples from the 1000 Genomes Project. 

Another project he is working on involves using text mining to comb through scientific literature to analyze the 10 most prevalent types of cancer in Saudi Arabia.

"Based on our findings, we will identify common cancer comorbidities and make treatment recommendations," he shared.

Cancer is a disease close to Christophe's heart. In early 2017, his cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer, which affected him deeply. That same year, a close colleague of his got cancer as well. Working to fight this deadly disease became his core as a scientist. He believes that to really make a difference, you need to have the proper tools first.

"Everybody needs to find their specialty. You work on that to become as good as you can. Then, hopefully you can contribute to the fields that drive you," he said.