dr. Hetty Helsmoortel (PhD)

CRIG member
Hetty Helsmoortel

Postdoctoral researcher - Lab for functional cancer genomics and applied bioinformatics, Center for Medical Genetics (UGent)
Science communication advisor - CRIG
Principal investigator: prof. Jo Vandesompele (PhD)

Research focus

Exosomes are very small vesicles secreted by all human body cells. They are full of cell material and can end up in the blood stream. When first discovered, exosomes were considered as a cell’s way to secrete waste molecules. However, research in the past decade showed that exosomes contain a very specific cargo that cells use to communicate with each other. More recently, exosomes were shown to have diverse roles in cancer development, maintenance and progression. In my research project, I will first investigate exosomes circulating in the blood of prostate cancer patients, but aim to apply the same methodology to study the role of exosomes in various other cancer types such as neuroblastoma and pancreatic cancer.
More specifically, I investigate whether exosomes in the blood of cancer patients contain cargo coming from the tumor cells. In addition, I evaluate whether exosomes are different between indolent and aggressive disease. Finally, the effect of adding exosomes to different cancer models will be examined. The methods I will develop and apply are entirely based on RNA, which is the dynamic ‘nephew’ of DNA. Not only will this teach us fundamental knowledge about the role of exosomes in cancer, we also want to establish simple blood tests to diagnose and follow up cancer in a better and minimally invasive way.
In conclusion, my project is situated at the intersection of three fast-moving and highly exciting research worlds: the exosome world, the cancer world and the RNA world. I am excited to use the new insights in these research fields to improve patient care.


Hetty holds a Master degree in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, a Teacher’s License and a PhD in Health Sciences. She is currently an FWO postdoctoral fellow at Ghent University, where she is involved in cancer research.
Apart from being a cancer researcher, Hetty is also a passionate science communicator. In 2015, she won both the ‘Wetenschapsbattle’ and FameLab Belgium, the biggest science communication competition in the world. She is the scientist in residence at ‘De Afspraak’ on Canvas television, where she explains scientific topics in a clear and impassioned way once a month. In addition, she often talks science on radio and in newspapers and is currently organizing the very first Belgian outdoor science festival (expect foodtrucks, beer and lots of science).
Her expertise in both cancer research and science communication has led her to become involved in the science communication team within CRIG, where she aims at clearly communicating science to other researchers, patients and society in general.

Key publications

  • LIN28B overexpression defines a novel fetal-like subgroup of juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia'. Blood, 2016. (PMID: 26712910)
  • 'LIN28B is overexpressed in specific subtypes of paediatric leukaemia and regulates long non-coding RNA H19'. Haematologica, 2016. (PMID: 26969084)
  • 'CD200/BTLA deletions in pediatric precursor B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated according to the EORTC-CLG 58951 protocol'. Haematologica, 2015. (PMID: 26137961)
  • 'Unique long non-coding RNA expression signature in ETV6/RUNX1-driven B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia'. Oncotarget, 2016. (PMID: 27650541)
  • 'MYCN-driven regulatory mechanisms controlling LIN28B in neuroblastoma'. Cancer Letters, 2015. (PMID: 26123663)  

Contact & links