Tomas Casanova Bustos is a Chilean-born researcher in veterinary medicine who wrote his PhD thesis here at the Université de Liège, thanks to a grant awarded by Wallonia-Brussels International (WBI). The life of this thirty-year-old has always been closely tied to Belgium. Born in Brussels, he feels a strong personal and professional bond with our country.

Vinciane Pinte meets him to finds out more about his experience.

“My parents sought refuge in Belgium in the 1980s, as did many Chileans fleeting from the military dictatorship of Pinochet. This is how I came to be born in Brussels, spending my early childhood there.”, Tomas explains. Some members of my family returned home when the dictatorship collapsed in the 1990s, while others stayed in Belgium. Tomas therefore quickly became accustomed to moving between the two countries.

Belgian-Chilean collaboration

In 2011, well advanced in his studies at the veterinary medicine faculty of the prestigious Universidad de Concepcion (UdEC), it was therefore natural for Tomas to return to Belgium to complete his PhD thesis. He chose the “Cité Ardente”, whose veterinary faculty enjoys an excellent reputation, in particular the Department of Pathology headed by Professor Daniel Desmecht. “In addition to guaranteeing I was put in a position to complete my research in the best possible conditions, supervised by Daniel Desmecht, with the excellent support of lab researcher Mutien Garigliany. That is how our Belgian-Chilean academic collaboration began”, Tomas explains.

Tomas therefore spent four years on his thesis, which analyses the factors involved in resistance/sensitivity to infection by viruses . “Just like humans, some animals are more sensitive to certain pathogens, like the influenza virus, tuberculosis or even Covid-19. I used experiments on mice to study pneumonia in the influenza virus.”

Today, teaching and researching at his Chilean alma mater, Tomas continues to collaborate with his counterparts at the Université de Liège. At the moment, we are studying what negatively modifies the efficacy of antibiotics. We are preparing in vitro models to reduce and replace the use of animals with cell cultures. The early results are looking very positive indeed. To this end, we are once again working with Mutien Garigliany, who has extensive experience with in vitro models.”

Other inter-university professional projects are also envisaged. “There are huge possibilities but friendship is also an important part of these collaborations”, Tomas concludes.

Tomas, you lived in Belgium for many years. What do you see as our country’s main strengths?

Belgian people are very supportive, open and warm. I was always made to feel very welcome on my various stays here. Belgium is also my parents’ haven as Chilean refugees in the 1980s and indeed that of many Chileans.

And its weaknesses?

I’m not sure I can see any. Belgium is very modest and that stands out considerably amongst the “prouder” countries.

When this article was published, Belgium was in phase 2 of the easing of lockdown. Do you have any thoughts onthis health crisis?

We are seeing the beginning of a new era with new priorities: better education on health matters, increased financing of scientific research in Belgium and greater support between citizens. I believe we are now ready to learn these valuable lessons.   

You can also read this article in W+B magazine No. 148.