prof. Niek Sanders (PhD)

CRIG group leader
Niek Sanders

Associate professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University
Prinicpal investigator, Laboratory of Gene Therapy, Ghent University
Former member of the CRIG steering committee
Member of the European Academy for Tumor Immunology (EATI)


Research focus

In our cancer research we mainly focus on cancer immunotherapy. In more detail, we work on the design and preclinical evaluation of cancer therapeutics based on cancer antigens (cancer vaccines), cytokines (e.g. IL-12), antibodies (e.g. checkpoint inhibitors) and strategies that tackle the immune suppressive tumor environment. Also the targeted delivery of cancer drugs to tumors using tumor homing cells is a topic within our group. Many of our therapeutic agents are therapeutic DNA or mRNA molecules, which upon administration allow patients to produce their own therapeutic proteins in their body. By engineering on/off switches in our therapeutics mRNAs, the production of these therapeutic proteins by the patient’s body can be turned off/on on demand. In our work we also focus on pets with cancer. Dogs, cats and horses spontaneously develop tumors with histopathological and biological features similar to human tumors. Within our research these pets with cancer are on the one hand considered as the final goal for the development anticancer drugs, and at the other hand considered as excellent models for the development of anticancer drugs for humans. In this ways we hope to contribute to the development of new anticancer drugs for both veterinary and human patients afflicted with cancer.

Expertise to offer

The team of Prof. Niek Sanders has ample expertise in the production of different types of mRNA, and they can offer this expertise as a service facility or in collaborative projects.


Niek Sanders received his MS degree in pharmaceutical sciences in 1997 and his PhD degree in 2001. During his PhD he studied the barrier properties of cystic fibrosis (CF) lung mucus towards CF gene therapy. His PhD work was awarded with the Leonardo Award (Pharmacia-Pfizer) and the national price of the Belgian Society of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Since 2002 he worked as a postdoctoral fellow, of the National Fund for Scientific Research (FWO), at Ghent University (Belgium), at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich, Germany), and at the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands). The main focus of his postdoctoral research was the development and in vitro evaluation of new delivery systems for DNA and siRNA. In 2008 he became research professor in Gene Therapy at Ghent University and established a new research group that focuses on cancer immunotherapy, DNA and mRNA based therapeutics.

Research team

Key publications

  • Recent progress in canine tumor vaccination: potential applications for human tumor vaccines. Expert Rev. Vaccines 2012
  • A nanobody targeting the F-actin capping protein CapG restrains breast cancer metastasis. Breast Cancer Res. 2013
  • Various ways to improve whole cancer cell vaccines. Expert Rev. Vaccines 2014
  • Combination of interleukin-12 gene therapy, metronomic cyclophosphamide and DNA cancer vaccination directs all arms of the immune system towards tumor eradication. J. Control. Release. 2014
  • Can dendritic cells improve whole cancer cell vaccines based on immunogenically killed cancer cells? OncoImmunology 2015
  • Immunogenicity and safety of xenogeneic vascular endothelial growth factor receptor-2 DNA vaccination in mice and dogs. Oncotarget 2016
  • Evaluation of regulatory T cells and angiogenic markers in canine cancer patients compared to a healthy control group and during metronomic chemotherapy. Vet. Comp. Oncol. 2016
  • Coadministration of a Plasmid Encoding HIV-1 Gag Enhances the Efficacy of Cancer DNA Vaccines. Mol. Ther. 2016
  • Intratumoral interleukin 12 gene therapy stimulates the immune system and decreases angiogenesis in dogs with spontaneous cancer. Vet. Comp. Oncol. 2016
  • Pet dog cancer models in search of novel therapeutic alternatives. Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdschrift 2016
  • Evaluation of a xenogeneic vascular endothelial growth factor-2 vaccine in two preclinical metastatic tumor models in mice. Cancer Immunol Immunother, 2017


  • Laboratory of Gene Therapy, Ghent University, Heidestraat 19, 9820 Merelbeke (Belgium)
  • prof. Sanders is interested to receive invitations for presentations or talks