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

    Séan Mc Cafferty graduated at Ghent University as a Master of Science in Biochemistry and Biotechnology and joined the lab in 2014. His research focuses on non-viral delivery and application of mRNA for cancer immunotherapy and genetic vaccination. In addition to gathering immunological data, the delivery of mRNA therapeutics and ensuing protein expression kinetics are evaluated by in vivo bioluminescence and in vivo fluorescence imaging. In the end, Sean Mc Cafferty hopes to contribute to bringing gene therapy from bench to bedside.


    Francis Combes is a veterinarian and started his PhD in 2015. His research focuses on the use of cellular vehicles for the delivery of therapeutic agents. These carriers are used as Trojan horses to deposit nucleic acid constructs that code for cytokines in the vicinity of a tumor. Additionally, the constructs possess regulatory elements which allow the expression of the cytokines to be manipulated after injection. In brief, this model aims to provide researchers and clinicians a tool to specifically target malignant regions of interest without the need for high systemic concentrations and its associated adverse effects.



    Former members

    • Dr. Marina De Filette
    • Steven Cool
    • Dr. Oliwia Andries
    • Sofie Denies
    • Dr. Laetitia Cicchelero
    • Dr. Bregje Leyman
    • Dr. João Portela-Catani