UAntwerpen


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The Organisation

The University of Antwerp is a young, dynamic and forward-thinking university situated in the North of Belgium. In 2014, the UAntwerpen had 19155 students (of which 16% are international students), 1247 PhD students and 5117 personnel (including 624 tenured professors, 2933 researchers, 290 assistants and 1270 administrative and technical personnel). Further, UAntwerpen closely collaborates with its affiliated university hospital (UZA) for both research and training of medical students. 

UAntwerpen offers internationally accredited academic teaching based on scientific research. The scientific research performed at the UAntwerpen strives for international excellence both in basic and applied research and within Flanders the UAntwerpen is, for the third year in a row, the university with the largest share of its publications in the top 25% of the journals of the field (source: SCImago Institutional Ranking). Moreover, UAntwerpen was ranked at the 13th place in ‘Top 50 Universities under 50 years’. This scientific excellence is achieved by focusing the investment in nine key research domains. 

Neurosciences and Imaging, which are both very relevant for ECMED, are two of these nine strategic research focus areas of UAntwerpen. The University of Antwerp (UA) has recently strongly invested in imaging facilities and has obtained an exceptional position of excellence and critical mass in this landscape gathered in the Expert Group Antwerp Molecular Imaging (EGAMI) consortium including the Molecular Imaging Center Antwerp (MICA). For this multi-disciplinary project teams from the Department of Translational Neurosciences, University of Antwerp Medicinal Chemistry (UAMC) and MICA will be involved.  


The Team

The goal of the Experimental Lab of Translational Neuroscience and Otolaryngology at the Department of Translational Neurosciences, University of Antwerp, headed by professor Stefanie Dedeurwaerdere, is to characterize the neurophysiological processes during disease ontogenesis in animal models with in vivo imaging biomarkers and histological techniques. 

The expanding research team currently consists of two postdocs, three PhD students, two research technicians and several Masters’ students and has vast knowledge and skills to enhance the understanding of pathophysiological mechanisms of brain diseases. The members of our team not only cross interdisciplinary boarders for our research (e.g. radiochemistry, neurobiology, image analysis), but also national boarders (Poland, Spain, Italy, India).

Although the group has a general interest in the development of neurological and developmental disorders including schizophrenia, our efforts are mainly dedicated to two research lines against epilepsy; one, to correctly predict epilepsy by developing clinically relevant biomarkers and second, to prevent or modify epilepsy by early treatment following an epileptogenic insult. The lab is focused on acquired epilepsies and works with rodent models including kainic acid-induced status epilepticus (KASE) as well as models of traumatic brain injury including controlled cortical injury. These are well-validated models of acquired epilepsies, which lead to the development of spontaneous recurrent seizures following a latent period. Considering the importance of inflammation in the pathogenesis of acquired epilepsies, the group utilizes for example the translocator protein (TSPO), a PET biomarker for inflammation validated both in animal models and humans. Moreover, we aim to modulate these inflammatory processes during the epileptogenesis phase to inhibit the expression of epileptic seizure following the initial epileptogenic insult. In addition, we focus on changes in extracellular matrix proteins that support neurons, such as Matrix Metalloprotease 9 (MMP9) and urokinase Plasminogen Activator (uPA), as a biomarker for acquired epilepsies. The strong skills in in vivo PET and MRI imaging techniques as well as performing continuous video-EEG monitoring in addition to behavioural tests significantly supports the research objectives of our group. 

The Medicinal Chemistry team (UAMC, PIs: Pieter Van der Veken, Hans De Winter and Koen Augustyns (spokesperson)) has internationally recognized expertise in drug discovery for a broad range of target families. During the past years, significant attention has been devoted to inhibitor and probe discovery for protease targets. 

Examples of proteases that have been studied include: 

  • the dipeptidyl peptidases and related enzymes
  • trypsin-like enzymes (e.g. urokinase plasminogen activator and kallikreins)
  • caspases and metacaspases

Several of these will also be targeted in the framework of this project.  Both established drug discovery strategies and innovative methodologies are being investigated. UAMC offers state-of-the-art organic synthesis facilities, analytical equipment (NMR, UPLC-MS/MS, microtiterplate readers) and enzymology infrastructure. The lab has around 20 researchers. Extended biological evaluation of molecules that are prepared is ensured by ongoing collaborations, i.a. with MICA and the Experimental Lab of Translational Neuroscience group for imaging probes.

The Molecular Imaging Center Antwerp (MICA) was founded in 2010 as a joint effort by the University of Antwerp and the University Hospital Antwerp. The research group led by Prof. Dr. S. Stroobants consists of a molecular probe development team (Dr. Leonie wyffels), a preclinical imaging laboratory (Prof. Steven Staelens) and a clinical department (Prof. Stroobants), putting this lab at the forefront of bench to bedside research in molecular diagnostics. 

MICA focuses on (i) tracer development, (ii) oncology, (iii) engineering and (iv) neurosciences. The team exponentially grew to a total of more then 20 coworkers and the team comprises of 5 board certified nuclear medicine specialists, 2 accredited radiopharmacists and a radiation expert as well as postdoctoral scientists with many years of experience in oncology, neurosciences and engineering. These researchers are supported by no less than 5 technical assistants and joined by more than 10 PhD students.

MICA is housed in a custom-built facility with state-of-the-art equipment. The radiopharmacy has 10 different hot cell units, including multiple hot cells for automated tracer production and a fully-equipped QC lab. GMP-certification of the facility is currently in progress. The pre-clinical imaging lab involves an SPF animal facility with a capacity of up to 1650 rodents. Pre-clinical imaging is performed on two preclinical PET/CT cameras and recently the lab was extended with the world’s first simultaneous PET/SPECT small animal scanner that allows to follow-up both on drug administration and on therapy outcome simultaneously. In addition, the latest tools for ex vivo and in vitro analyses including IHC, HPLC, gamma counting and autoradiography are present, as well as a μ-radiotherapy irradiator system. The preclinical imaging lab designs and runs all animal studies in close interaction with the MDs of the nuclear medicine group to assure clinical relevance and optimal tracer-pathology combinations. This allows our team to work from bench (molecule) to bedside (first-in-man).


Contact Us

Prof. Dr. Stefanie Dedeurwaerdere
Experimental Lab Translational Neuroscience and Otolaryngology, Department of Translational Neurosciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Universiteitsplein 1 – 2610 Wilrijk
Email: Stefanie.dedeurwaerdere@uantwerpen.be
Tel. + 32 3 265 26 38
Karin Mercelis
Department of Translational Neurosciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Universiteitsplein 1- 2610 ANTWERPEN 

Email: karin.mercelis@uantwerpen.be
Tel. +32 3 265 25 80

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