dr. Kaj Sullivan (PhD)

CRIG member
Kaj Sullivan

Postdoctoral researcher - Atomic and Mass Spectrometry Research Unit (A&MS), UGent, Faculty of Science, Department of Chemistry
Postdoctoral researcher - Laboratory for Experimental Cancer Research, UGent, Faculty of medicine and health sciences
Principal investigators: prof. Frank Vanhaecke (PhD) and prof. Olivier De Wever (PhD)


Research focus

Chemotherapy using Pt-based compounds is a standard cancer treatment, but tumours may develop chemoresistance, resulting in treatment failure. One mechanism behind chemoresistance is the disruption of metal homeostasis, which relates to changes in metal-binding proteins and redox status. The altered expression of ion channels (for Ca, K, Mg and Na) and Cu-, Fe-, and Zn-binding proteins has already been associated with tumour cell resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. This project will investigate the link between essential mineral elements and chemosensitivity/resistance in ovarian cancer.


Kaj received his BSc (Honours) in Geological Sciences in 2015 and his PhD in 2020, both from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (Canada). Kaj is broadly interested in applications of isotopic analysis, but his main research focuses lie in copper and zinc isotope metallomics and exploration geochemistry.
During his PhD, he worked with researchers at

  • National Reseach Council Canada to expand the range of geological and biological reference materials available for copper stable isotope analysis and
  • Imperial College London to determine whether zinc isotopic compositions in blood serum are altered postprandially and understand the mechanisms behind zinc hyperaccumulation in breast cancer tissue.

In 2021, Kaj held a postdoctoral fellowship at Queen’s University funded by IGO Ltd. and Mitacs that focused on developing geochemical methods that can improve our ability to explore for magmatic nickel-copper deposits in areas with post-mineral cover.
In February 2022, Kaj joined the A&MS research unit of Ghent University’s Department of Chemistry, where he has shifted his focus back to biomedical applications of high-precision isotopic analysis.
In his spare time, Kaj enjoys hiking and has recently joined the Antwerp-based Riverside Alliance Pipe Band. 

Key publications

  • ‘Zinc stable isotope analysis reveals Zn dyshomeostasis in benign tumours, breast cancer, and adjacent histologically normal tissue’. Metallomics, 2021. (PMID: 33970272)
  • ‘Zinc stable isotopes in urine as diagnostic for cancer of secretory organs’. Metallomics, 2021. (PMID: 33877364)

Contact & links

  • Lab address: Atomic & Mass Spectrometry – A&MS research unit, Ghent University, Department of Chemistry, Campus Sterre, Krijgslaan 281-S12, 9000 Gent
  • The LECR dedicates its resources to understand the communicative determinants between cancer cells and their host tissue. Mapping tumour-environment interactions will lead to the identification of disease- or therapy-associated biomarkers and to novel therapeutic targets.
  • Open to collaborating with CRIG researchers: major and trace element analysis, as well as high-precision isotopic analysis available at A&MS. 
  • Kaj Sullivan is interested to receive invitations for presentations or talks.