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 Analytical 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. At the 2011 Winter Conference on Plasma Spectrochemistry (Zaragoza, Spain) in February 2011, Frank received a ‘European Plasma Spectrochemistry Award’ for his contributions to this research field. In 2013, he was designated ‘Fellow of the US Society for Applied Spectroscopy – SAS’ and in 2017, he received the SAS – Lester Strock award. He is a member of the international advisory boards of ‘ABC – Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry’, SAB – ‘Spectrochimica Acta B’ and 'JAAS – Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry’. He acted as chair of the editorial board of the latter journal for 4 years (June 2012 - June 2016). So far, Frank’s scientific research has resulted in ~400 publications in peer-reviewed journals (>11.000 citations, average number per paper >28 & h-factor = 51 according to ISI’s Web of Science), while he has been the promoter of 43 successfully defended PhDs and of 65 successfully completed Master dissertations.

Research team

Key publications

  • Isotopic analysis of Cu in blood serum by multi-collector ICP-mass spectrometry for diagnosis and prognosis of liver cirrhosis?, Metallomics, 7, 491-498, 2015.
  • 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.

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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