Staff Laboratory for Gene Therapy


Laboratory of Gene Therapy
Heidestraat 19
9820 Merelbeke

Fax - 09 264 78 49


Head of the lab

Prof. Niek Sanders

    Niek Sanders received his MS degree in pharmaceutical sciences in 1997 and his PhD degree in 2001. During his PhD he studied the barrier properties of cystic fibrosis (CF) lung mucus towards CF gene therapy. His PhD work was awarded with the Leonardo Award (Pharmacia-Pfizer) and the national price of the Belgian Society of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Since 2002 he worked as a postdoctoral fellow, of the National Fund for Scientific Research (FWO), at Ghent University (Belgium), at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich, Germany), and at the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands). The main focus of his postdoctoral research was the development and in vitro evaluation of new delivery systems for DNA and siRNA. In 2008 he became research professor in Gene Therapy at Ghent University and established a new research group that focuses on cancer immunotherapy, DNA and mRNA vaccination.


    Selected publications

    1. Zifu Zhong, Séan Mc Cafferty, Francis Combes, Hanne Huysmans, Joyca De Temmerman, Arlieke Gitsels, Daisy Vanrompay, João Portela Catani and Niek N. Sanders. mRNA therapeutics deliver a hopeful message. Nano Today 2018; 23: 16-39 (peer reviewed)
      Impact factor: 17.753 Ranking: 10/285 (Q1)

    2. Tyler E. Wagner, Jacob R. Becraft, Katie Bodner, Brain Teague, Xin Zhang, Amanda Woo, Ely Porter, Bremy Alburquerque, Brian Dobosh, Oliwia Andries, Niek N. Sanders, Jacob Bea, Douglas Densmore, Tasuku Kitada and Ron Weiss. Small-molecule-based regulation of RNA-delivered circuits in mammalian cells. Nature Chemical Biology 2018; 14 (11): 1043-1050 (peer reviewed)

      Impact factor: 13.843 Ranking: 6/293 (Q1)

    3. Niek N. Sanders, Carsten Rudolph, Kevin Braeckmans, Stefaan C. De Smedt and Joseph Demeester. Extracellular barriers in respiratory gene therapy. Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews 2009; 61(2): 115-127 (peer reviewed)

      Impact factor: 11.957 Ranking: 5/237 (Q1)

    4. Katrien Remaut, Niek N. Sanders (equal contribution with 1st author), Bruno G. De Geest, Kevin Braeckmans, Joseph Demeester and Stefaan C. De Smedt. Nucleic acid delivery: where material science and biosciences meet. Materials Science & Engineering R-Reports 2007; 58(3-5): 117-161 (peer reviewed)

      Impact factor: 14.000 Ranking: 2/94 (Q1)

    5. Sofie Denies and Niek N. Sanders. Recent progress in canine tumor vaccination: potential applications for human tumor vaccines. Expert Rev. Vaccines 2012; 11(11): 1375-1386
    6. Oliwia Andries, Marina De Filette, Stefaan C. De Smedt, Jo Demeester, Mario Van Poucke, Luc Peelman and Niek N. Sanders. Innate immune response and programmed cell death following carrier-mediated delivery of unmodified mRNA to respiratory cells. J. Control. Release. 2013; 167(2): 157-166
    7. Laetitia Cicchelero, Hilde de Rooster and Niek N. Sanders. Various ways to improve whole cancer cell vaccines. Expert Rev. Vaccines 2014; 13(6):721-35
    8. Sofie Denies, Laetitia Cicchelero, Isabel Van Audenhove and Niek N. Sanders. Combination of interleukin-12 gene therapy, metronomic cyclophosphamide and DNA cancer vaccination directs all arms of the immune system towards tumor eradication. J. Control. Release. 2014; 187: 175-182
    9. Oliwia Andries, Tasuku Kitada, Niek N. Sanders* and Ron Weiss* (*co-last authors). Synthetic biology devices and circuits for RNA-based 'smart vaccines': a propositional review. Expert Rev. Vaccines 2015; 7: 1-19
    10. Laetitia Cicchelero, Sofie Denies, Bert Devriendt, Hilde de Rooster and Niek N. Sanders. Can dendritic cells improve whole cancer cell vaccines based on immunogenically killed cancer cells? OncoImmunology 2015; DOI:10.1080/2162402X.2015.1048413


    Scientific Staff and Current Research

    Janne Snoeck graduated magna cum laude in June 2019 as a Master of Biomedical Sciences and continues to develop herself as a scientist to this day. Her current doctoral project mainly aims to develop and optimize a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine for poultry against several avian pathogens. She specializes in production, characterization and immunological reactions to these vaccines in an in vitro, ex vivo and an in vivo setting and hopes to valorize her findings soon.


    Nathalie François graduated at Ghent University in September 2020 as a Master of Science in Drug Development. Now she is pursuing a PhD within the biotechnology field, aiming to develop a self-amplifying based gene therapy for cystic fibrosis. Insight is gained in RNA expression and protein functionality in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo. In parallel, production and characterization of lipid-based mRNA carriers are explored.


    Lisa Opomer graduated at Ghent University in September 2020 as a Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Care. Now she is pursuing a PhD within the biotechnology field, aiming to develop a polymer-based carrier platform for RNA-based vaccines and therapeutics, for human and veterinary use, as an alternative to gold standard: lipid-based carriers. During her valoization-focused doctoral study, Lisa has already gained considerable insight and practical experience in the formulation, characterization and, in vitro and in vivo testing of nanoparticles.


    Pieter's fundamental research on the safety and efficacy of self-amplifying RNA therapeutics evaluates multiple structural changes to TC83-derived replicons. Insight is gained in host-replicon interactions and their role in the platform's efficacy and safety by using a wide range of functional and structural assays. Finally, Pieter has a keen interest in RNA regulatory elements and how they can be used or altered in the development of RNA therapeutics.


    Xiaole graduated at Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences as a master of Veterinary Medicine in 2018. Now his research focuses on making self-amplifying mRNA vaccines against influenza virus and testing the efficiency of new lipid nanoparticles. He is also trying to change the circular RNA elements to get a long-lasting and high expression circular RNA for veterinary gene therapy.


    Qing graduated at China Pharmaceutical University as a master of Industrial Medicine in 2019. After her master study, She chose to work in a biopharmaceutical company named Innovent Bio., so she has two-year working experience related to tumor immunotherapy and she is good at in vivo efficacy studies. Now her research is mainly to find the optimal dose and optimal lipid formulation of mRNA-based gene therapy through intratracheal administration to treat some lung-related diseases, such as bacteria and fungi infection as well as lung cancer.


    Elisabeth graduated at Ghent University as a Master of Veterinary Medicine, and joined the lab in 2022 as research-assistant. Her project focuses on the veterinary applications of mRNA-based protein replacement therapy. In particular, she aims to develop an mRNA-therapeutic that encodes for feline erythropoietin, as treatment for anaemia secondary to chronic kidney failure in cats. To achieve this, she investigates different combinations of mRNA platforms and carrier systems.


    Oriane Gillon graduated at Ghent University in June 2021 as a Master of Science in Drug Development. Her PhD project focuses on a combinatorial self-amplifying mRNA therapy for treatment of colorectal cancer. More specific the combination of a vaccine encoding for neoantigens and two immune stimulating compounds, that are targeted to the tumour micro-environment, will be investigated in mouse models.


    Nirmal G. R. is a post-doctoral researcher at the Ghent university. He has done his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at Chang Gung University, Taiwan. He obtained his master’s degree in Materials Science and Engineering from GIST, South Korea. He has published articles in reputed journals like Journal of Controlled Release, Biomaterials Science, and Drug Delivery. His current work is on mRNA based therapeutics.


    Florian Vanlauwe graduated as a physician at Ghent University in June 2021. He decided to focus on scientific research before starting his residency. His PhD project aims to biofabricate vascularized adipose tissue which can be used for the reconstruction of soft tissue defects. This project combines the science of tissue engineering, biomaterial development and RNA-technology. In terms of RNA-technology, switchable self-amplifying mRNA will be used to control the production of angiogenic growth factors by human mesenchymal stem cells.



    Former members

    • Dr. Marina De Filette
    • Steven Cool
    • Dr. Oliwia Andries
    • Sofie Denies
    • Dr. Laetitia Cicchelero
    • Dr. Bregje Leyman
    • Dr. João Portela-Catani>
    • Joyca De Temmerman
    • Dr. Arlieke Gitsels
    • Dr. Zifu Zhong
    • Dr. Hanne Huysmans
    • Wouter Lanis
    • Dr. Francis Combes
    • Dr. Séan McCafferty