Department of Microbiology and Immunology
The department focuses on the study, prevention and treatment of important diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, the study of the complex host-microbiome interaction, and the study of the host immune system in infections, cancer, kidney diseases, autoimmunity, allergy and organ transplantation.
About the Department
The Department of Microbiology and Immunology consists of 15 laboratories and includes the Rega Institute. The Rega Institute has a long-standing expertise in technologies for microbiological, biochemical, immunological, and cell biological in silico, in vitro, and in vivo research with the use of animal models and clinical specimens. The central themes of microbiology (infections) and immunity (defence against infections) are intrinsically interlinked, providing opportunities for complementary research activities, and creating possibilities for applications in diagnostics and therapy of emerging and therapy-resistant infections, tumours, and autoimmune diseases.
As a department, we are committed to cutting-edge fundamental and clinical research, with as final aims the development of innovative diagnostics and therapeutic services that will benefit patients everywhere. We aspire to uphold the highest student-oriented standards of learning, education, and mentoring. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology wants to create an academic environment for its faculty, research staff and students that is collegial, productive, challenging, flexible, collaborative, motivating and supportive of career development.
Laboratory of Autoimmune Genetics
Laboratory of Clinical Immunology
Experimental Laboratory Immunology
Laboratory of Experimental Transplantation
Laboratory of Clinical Infectious and Inflammatory Disorders
Laboratory of Dermatoimmunology
Laboratory of Abdominal Transplantation
Laboratory of Clinical Bacteriology and Mycology
Laboratory of Virology and Chemotherapy (Rega Institute)
Laboratory of Molecular Bacteriology (Rega Institute)
Laboratory of Clinical and Epidemiological Virology (Rega Institute)
Laboratory of Immunobiology (Rega Institute)
Laboratory of Molecular Immunology (Rega Institute)
Laboratory of Nephrology
Laboratory of Pediatric Immunology
The research is focused on the cellular and molecular basis of immune tolerance mechanisms and failure. They study genetic basis of immune tolerance through the generation of murine models of disease and the analysis of genetic defects in patients with immune disorders. The laboratory specializes in the study of regulatory T cells, primary immunodeficiencies, diabetes and T cell development.
Research focuses on tolerance against autoantigens, allergens and immunodeficiency, and on exploring molecular determinants of immunodeficiency. Why is tolerance lost at the initiation of disease and how can it be restored? Special emphasis is put on the role of regulatory cells, costimulatory signals and suppressive cytokines. The laboratory uses several animal models (autoimmune encephalitis, allergic asthma and colitis) and also studies these aspects in human subjects with allergic and autoimmune diseases.
This laboratory studies the regulation of the immune response to Streptococcus pneumoniae, immunodeficiencies (with particular interest on innate immunity), and autoimmunity (with particular interest on serological markers).
The research addresses the immunobiology of transplantation. Our primary interest is the immunologic mechanisms underlying anti-tumor responses evoked by adoptive cell therapy following allogeneic bone marrow transplantation. Furthermore, we are studying the role of different immune regulatory cells (mesenchymal stem cells and myeloid suppressor cells) in immune events after transplantation. The lab also investigates the development of new immunomodulatory small molecules in close collaboration with the Laboratory of Medicinal Chemistry (Department of Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Prof. Piet Herdewijn).
The staff members are dedicated clinicians involved in the patient care of the General Internal Medicine Department, including Emergency Care and Intensive Care. Hence, the research efforts have tight links with clinical care and provide a dynamic interplay between bench and bedside. Examples of topics include: hepatic critical care: detoxification devices and hemodynamics; cholestasis in the critically ill; clinical trials in sepsis, vasculitis syndromes and noninfectious inflammatory disorders; and fever of unknown origin.
Research topics are skin manifestations in systemic disease, mucosal disease, identification of contact allergens in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and household and industrial products, cutaneous side effects of targeted therapies, psoriasis, photo testing and action spectrum determination in photosensitive patients, identification of trigger factors in atopic dermatitis, genodermatoses and multidisciplinary management of epidermolysis bullosa.
The Abdominal Transplant Surgery Lab conducts the following translational research projects: Development of tolerogenic protocols to promote graft acceptance after intestinal transplantation (in cooperation with the Laboratory of Experimental Transplantation); Prevention/amelioration of ischemia reperfusion injury after liver, kidney, intestinal transplantation by improved preservation strategies (among them machine perfusion) and/or biological intervention (single compound or cocktail approach). The lab uses models of transplantation and/or ischemia reperfusion injury in rats and pigs. They perform and participate in randomized clinical trials.
The lab focuses on following translational research topics: diagnosis and treatment of invasive fungal infections, epidemiology of Streptococcus pneumoniae (staff members of this lab coordinate the National Reference Center for Mycosis and the National Reference Center for Streptococcus pneumoniae), implementation of clinical bacteriology and infection control in low resource settings; and aggregation as a new antimicrobial strategy.
Research is focused on discovering new concepts for therapy against human viruses (including HIV, influenza, RSV, hepatitis viruses, and several tumor-inducing viruses); identifying the structure and function of new targets for antiviral and anticancer therapy and study the mechanism of action of novel inhibitors; investigating the molecular basis for drug resistance; studying kinetics of drug-target interactions; and exploring the pharmacology of new drug leads in cell culture and mouse models.
The research conducted in this laboratory ranges from protein structure and function, biophysics and cell biology to microbiomics, advanced bioinformatics and proteomics.
This laboratory investigates the molecular epidemiology of RNA and DNA viruses, in vivo virus evolution, disease progression, therapy and immune response in virus-infected patients using classical, phylogenetic and transcriptomics approaches. Furthermore, they investigate the role of the virome in health and disease, and develop new bioinformatics and molecular biological tools for virus discovery and large dataset analyses.
This laboratory combines the expertises of fundamental (G. Opdenakker, P. Matthys, P.E. Van den Steen) and clinical immunologists (C. Wouters, L. De Somer). With their research teams they study the immunobiology of infectious, autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases with a clear focus on innate immune mechanisms. This group has specific interests in the interactions between cytokines, chemokines and proteases and in neutrophil and natural killer cell biology. Inhibition of inflammatory reactions in animal models of infection and inflammation is studied with the aim of translation to clinical applications. In addition to commonly used models of autoimmune diseases, unique animal models of malaria-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis have been developed to study pathogenesis and to define novel disease markers and targets for therapy. In addition, this group has expertise in the analysis of proteolytic enzymes, inhibitors, proteins and DNA, in cell culture systems, bio-assays and flow cytometry. Finally, the group has a strong international collaboration in the field of new biological therapeutics for rare autoinflammatory diseases in children, and leads an international research project on Blau syndrome, a unique monogenic autoinflammatory condition.
The main research topics include evaluation of leukocyte migration in inflammation and tumor biology with a main focus on chemokines. This includes biological and biochemical characterization of chemoattractants, their gene regulation and posttranslational processing, G protein-coupled receptor-mediated signal transduction, interactions with glycosaminoglycans and synergistic and antagonistic activities. The role of chemoattractants in (1) homeostatic and inflammatory leukocyte migration, (2) autoinflammation, autoimmunity and infection, (3) angiogenesis, (4) tumor development and (5) fibrosis. They use mass spectrometry and protein sequencing (proteomics) for downstream processing of body fluids and chemical and recombinant protein production to determine the chemokine profile and activity in a wide range of animal models and diseases. A broad range of in vitro chemotaxis and signaling assays have been developed including the use of fluorescence and time-lapse video microscopy.
The Laboratory of Nephrology focuses its research on: exploration of the gut-kidney axis and the bone metabolism-vascular disease axis in renal disease. Mechanisms of ischemia-reperfusion injury in transplantation, clinical pharmacology and personalizing of immunosuppressive therapy and mechanisms of (allo)immune and non-immune injury to the graft are important subjects of research. In addition, the role of heme-oxygenase-1 in the cardiovascular phenotype of chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular diseases in ESRD and renal transplantation are also topics of collaborative research projects. The laboratory performs extensive molecular studies (-omics) based on a very large clinical (tissue) biobank (blood, urine, renal, arterial and bone tissue) to evaluate the interplay between non-immune factors and immunity in renal disease and kidney transplantation and their respective impact on kidney (graft) outcome; with the goal of identifying non-invasive biomarkers reflecting renal (allograft) status and predicting outcome and prognosis (risk stratification). Novel drug targets are investigated with input from in vitro findings (proximal tubular cell model), microarray studies and (bio)chemical design strategies. Rare kidney diseases (e.g. atypical HUS and ADPKD) are investigated in translational explorative studies in order to identify novel therapeutic targets.
Research topics are translationally oriented, including both basic science and clinical research. Topics include immune deficiencies, allergy and environmental airway hyperreactivity, autoimmunity and systemic disorders, tumor immunology and tumor vaccination.