prof. Debby Laukens (PhD)

CRIG member
Debby Laukens

Principal investigator  - IBD Research Unit, department of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics
Associate professor (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UGent)
Team leader at Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB)
Coordinator of Ghent Gut Inflammation Group (GGIG)


Research focus

My research unit aims to discern and modulate intestinal and extra-intestinal effects of gut inflammation. Our primary objective is to unveil novel therapeutic targets for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and gut-driven brain disorders, such as fatigue and Parkinson's disease. 

A significant concern within the realm of IBD, particularly in patients with colitis, is the development of colitis-associated cancer (CAC). This form of cancer is distinct from sporadic colorectal cancer, as it is primarily driven by chronic inflammation. Despite advancements in inflammation management, endoscopic detection, and resection techniques, CAC risk remains significantly elevated in IBD patients compared to the general population, even when the patients have achieved remission. This underscores the urgent need to enhance our understanding of the transition from inflammation to cancer progression, enabling us to identify at-risk patients and develop innovative preventive and therapeutic strategies.

One of our research lines focuses on dissecting and manipulating the communication pathways between epithelial (tumor) cells and fibroblast subtypes that promote cancer development within an inflammatory context. To accomplish this, we employ a range of tools and techniques, including (endoscopy-guided) mouse models of colon cancer, gut organoids, and preclinical validation using CAC samples.


I graduated as a Biochemist from the University of Antwerp (Belgium), and obtained a PhD degree at Ghent University and Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB, 2006)) focusing on the integration of transcriptome profiling and genotyping to identify risk genes for Crohn’s disease. I pursued my career as a postdoctoral researcher at the Gastroenterology unit of Ghent University Hospital, and gradually established independence within this department. In 2014, I was leading a successful research group aimed at preclinical research in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD, the IBD Research Unit). In 2019, I became professor in experimental gastroenterology, and I affiliated with the Center for Inflammation Research of VIB as team leader. 

While research is my main focus, I have always been active in institutional committees and policy making, as I have understood from very early on that researchers need to team up in an environment of ever increasing specialization. Today, I am team leader for research at the department of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, which is aimed at facilitating research and driving collaborative efforts. This brings me very close to other researchers, including physician-researchers of various disciplines. Finally, I am co-founder and coordinator of a consortium of labs involved in different aspects of intestinal biology, called the Ghent Gut Inflammation Group (GGIG).


Research team

Key publications

  • The quorum sensing peptide EntF* promotes colorectal cancer metastasis in mice: a new factor in the host-microbiome interaction. BMC Biol, 2022 (PMID: 35761265)
  • Next-generation proteasome inhibitor oprozomib synergizes with modulators of the unfolded protein response to suppress hepatocellular carcinoma. Oncotarget, 2016 (PMID: 27167000)
  • Placental growth factor inhibition modulates the interplay between hypoxia and unfolded protein response in hepatocellular carcinoma. BMC Cancer, 2016  (PMID: 26753564)
  • Tauroursodeoxycholic acid dampens oncogenic apoptosis induced by endoplasmic reticulum stress during hepatocarcinogen exposure. Oncotarget, 2015 (PMID: 26293671)
  • Modulation of the unfolded protein response impedes tumor cell adaptation to proteotoxic stress: a PERK for hepatocellular carcinoma therapy. Hepatol Int, 2014 (PMID: 25598862)

Contact & links

  • Lab address: Medical Research Building 2 (ground floor, entrance 38), Corneel Heymanslaan 10, 9000 Ghent
  • Research explorer
  • GGIG: Ghent Gut Inflammation Group is a consortium of labs involved in different aspects of intestinal biology 
  • Prof. Laukens is interested to receive invitations for presentations or talks