Prof. Piet Cools (PhD)

CRIG member
Piet Cools

Principal investigator – Laboratory Bacteriology Research 
Assistant professor (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UGent)


Research focus

HPV and cervical cancer

The ELEVATE consortium wants to empower women to screen for their cervical cancer risk in any setting while guaranteeing rapid and easy-to-understand results. To that end, the project will identify hard-to-reach women and design a screening strategy to access them. This strategy includes the development of a user-friendly, low-cost, portable self-sampling screening tool which will be able to detect 14 high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) types and 2 proteomic cervical cancer biomarkers.

The simultaneous detection of HPV DNA with the proteomic marker will allow for more accurate detection of HPV infections associated with cervical cancer progression. Therefore more relevant patients can be detected and treated, thereby drastically reducing the cancer burden in these populations. An intervention during which the self-testing device will be piloted in hard-to-reach communities in Belgium, Portugal, Ecuador and Brazil will provide information about the acceptability and cost-effectiveness of the tool.

Laboratory Bacteriology Research is involved in Elevate in the co-development of the DNA part of the tool and the clinical evaluation.

Breast cancer, vulvovaginal atrophy and the vaginal microbiota

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. The vast majority of breast cancer tumors are hormone-sensitive, meaning that these cancer cells are influenced and can be stimulated by female hormones. One of the fundamental components of breast cancer treatment is anti-hormonal therapy, which prevents female hormones in the body from exerting their influence. The development of vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA) is one of the side effects of this treatment, with a clear impact on the quality of life (sexuality, daily functioning, self-image, etc.).

Breast cancer patients with VVA are often not treated for it due to physicians' reluctance to initiate local hormones, the best treatment for VVA, out of fear of recurrence, despite earlier studies showing no increase in recurrence with the use of this local treatment. Furthermore, there is still a taboo surrounding this topic, and discussing VVA symptoms is a difficult barrier for many patients.

This study aims to compare the available hormonal and non-hormonal treatment options, research that is currently lacking, with the main objectives being a direct comparison for both efficacy and safety. For this comparison, patient-reported outcomes measurements and standard clinical evaluation tests (vaginal pH, microscopic examination, etc.) will be used. The following treatments will be included: estrogen, DHEA, hyaluronic acid, and probiotics. Since probiotics have proven highly effective in certain intestinal diseases, we want to investigate whether the use of probiotics can contribute to the treatment of VVA in breast cancer patients.

Thus, this study aims to emphasize and highlight the treatment options for VVA, reducing the barrier for patients to discuss their symptoms with treating physicians and for physicians to treat patients with both VVA and breast cancer. In doing so, we can contribute to improving the quality of life for breast cancer patients.

Laboratory Bacteriology Research will study the impact of the different treatments on the vaginal microbiota.

Research team

  • Prof. Piet Cools (PhD) - principal investigator
  • Lisa Himschoot - doctoral fellow
  • Bodine Van Eenooghe - staff scientist

Contact & links

  • Lab address: Department Diagnostic Sciences, Medical Research Building-II, entrance 38, Campus UZ Gent, Corneel Heymanslaan 10, 9000 Ghent
  • Prof. Cools  is interested to receive invitations for presentations or talks