prof. Frank Vanhaecke (PhD)

CRIG group leader
Frank Vanhaecke

Senior Full Professor in Analytical Chemistry (Faculty of Sciences, UGent)
Head of the Atomic & Mass Spectrometry - A&MS research unit (Department of Analytical Chemistry)


Research focus

The Atomic & Mass Spectrometry – A&MS research unit is specialized in the determination, speciation and isotopic analysis of (trace) elements using various forms of ICP-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).
The research unit studies fundamental issues of the technique and develops novel analytical methods to address challenging problems in an interdisciplinary context. In the context of cancer-related research, the A&MS unit, e.g., develops analytical approaches to visualize the 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional distribution of elements (e.g., Pt under the form of a chemotherapeutic drug) in tissues based on the combination of laser ablation (LA) sampling and ICP-MS. LA-ICP-MS can, e.g., also be used to study the fate of Fe-containing nanoparticle drug carriers or to study the distribution of metal-tagged antibodies in a tissue sample.
The A&MS unit is also pioneering in exploring the use of isotope ratios in human body fluids and tissues as a marker, e.g., for iron status or liver disease. A difference was established in the isotopic composition of Cu between tumor tissue and adjacent healthy tissue. Analytical protocols were developed for high-precision isotopic analysis of a series of essential elements (e.g., Mg, Ca, Fe, Cu, Zn) using multi-collector ICP-MS. Efforts are made to unravel the factors governing the isotopic composition of selected elements in human body fluids and tissues. In the contexts described above, the A&MS unit is cooperating with several departments of the Ghent University Hospital, the Leiden University Medical Centre, the Mayo Clinic (US) and the Japanese National Center for Global Health and Medicine.
The group is also developing methods for single-cell analysis whereby the concentrations of metals, metalloids and some non-metals can be quantified on a single-cell basis.


Frank Vanhaecke is Senior Full Professor at the Department of Chemistry of Ghent University (Belgium), where he leads the ‘Atomic & Mass Spectrometry – A&MS’ research unit. His research group focuses on the determination, speciation and isotopic analysis of (trace) elements using ICP-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). The A&MS groups studies fundamentally-oriented aspects of the technique and develops methods for solving challenging scientific problems in an interdisciplinary context. Nowadays, specific topics of research include spatially resolved analysis (including depth profiling and 2- and 3-dimensional elemental mapping) of tissues by means of ICP-MS using laser ablation (LA) for sample introduction, single-event ICP-MS focusing on the elemental analysis of engineered nanoparticles and cells, and high-precision isotopic analysis using multi-collector sector field ICP-MS in a biomedical context (“isotopic diagnosis”). So far, Frank has been the promoter of 51 successfully defended PhDs and has guided >25 postdoctoral researchers (duration of stay at the A&MS group > 1 year). To date, the team’s scientific research has resulted in ≈475 publications in peer-reviewed journals (>17,000 citations, average number of citations per paper >35). At the 2011 Winter Conference on Plasma Spectrochemistry (Zaragoza, Spain), Frank received a ‘European Plasma Spectrochemistry Award’ for his team’s contributions to this research field. In 2013, he was designated ‘Fellow of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy – SAS’. In 2017, he received the Lester W. Strock Award from SAS and in 2023, the Theophilus Redwood Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry RSC. He has been / is a member of the editorial board of ‘JAAS - Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry’ from 2007 – 2016 and from 2020 onwards, with the position of chairman from June 2012 – June 2016. In addition, he is also a Member of the Advisory Board of ‘SAB – Spectrochimica Acta B’. Frank is a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry RSC.

Research team


Key publications

  • High Resolution Laser Ablation - ICP - Mass Spectrometry Imaging of Cisplatin-Induced Nephrotoxic Side Effects, Analytica Chimica Acta, 943, 23-30, 2016.
  • High-precision isotopic analysis of essential mineral elements in biomedicine: natural isotope ratio variations as potential diagnostic and/or prognostic markers, Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 76, 182-193, 2016.
  • Cu isotopic signature in blood serum of liver transplant patients: a follow-up study, Scientific Reports, 6, Article number: 30683, 2016.
  • Laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry for quantitative mapping of the copper distribution in liver tissue sections from mice with liver disease induced by common bile duct ligation, Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 32, 1805-1812, 2017.
  • Fast high-resolution LA-ICP-MS imaging of the distribution of platinum-based anti-cancer compounds in multicellular tumor spheroids, Analytical Chemistry, 89, 12641-12645, 2017.
  • High-resolution imaging and single-cell analysis via laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry for the determination of membranous receptor expression levels in breast cancer cell lines using receptor-specific hybrid tracers, Analytica Chimica Acta, 1074, 43-53, 2019.
  • Laser ablation-tandem ICP-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS/MS) imaging of iron oxide nanoparticles in Ca-rich gelatin microspheres, Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 34,1846-1855, 2019.
  • Selective ablation of biological tissue and single cells on a glass substrate by controlling the laser energy density of nanosecond 193 nm laser radiation, Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 34, 1957-1964, 2019. DOI: 10.1039/C9JA00126C.
  • Single-event tandem ICP-mass spectrometry for the quantification of chemotherapeutic drug-derived Pt and endogenous elements in individual human cells, Analytica Chimica Acta, 1177, paper nr. 338797, 2021. DOI: 10.1016/j.aca.2021.338797.
  • Sub-µm nanosecond LA-ICP-MS imaging at pixel acquisition rates above 250 Hz via a low-dispersion setup, Analytical Chemistry, 92, 5756-5764, 2020. DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.9b05056.
  • High-precision isotopic analysis of essential mineral elements: capabilities as a diagnostic/prognostic tool, F. Vanhaecke and M. Costas-Rodríguez, View, 2, paper nr: 20200094, 2021. DOI: 10.1002/VIW.20200094.
  • Analysis of microsamples of biological fluids via inductively coupled plasma-tandem mass spectrometry using a micro-flow injection system coupled to a high-efficiency sample introduction setup, T. Liu, E. Bolea-Fernandez and F. Vanhaecke, Spectrochimica Acta B, 198, paper nr. 106546, 2022. DOI: 10.1016/j.sab.2022.106546

Contact & links

  • address: Atomic & Mass Spectrometry - A&MS research unit,
    Ghent University, Department of Chemistry,
    Campus Sterre, Krijgslaan 281 - S12, 9000 Gent
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