prof. Pieter Mestdagh (PhD)

CRIG group leader
Pieter Mestdagh

Principal investigator - OncoRNALab, Center for Medical Genetics (UGent)
Full professor (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UGent)
Co-founder of CRIG


Research focus

Until recently, it was believed that only a small fraction of the genome contained relevant information, used by the cell to produce proteins. The majority was referred to as ‘junk DNA’ with no obvious function throughout life. Today, there’s ample evidence demonstrating that the majority of the genome is producing non-coding RNA (ncRNA) transcripts that can have important functions in every aspect of cell biology. My lab focuses on the study of long non-coding RNAs in cancer with the goal to expand our knowledge on lncRNA functions, gain insights in the mechanisms by which they operate and evaluate their use as therapeutic targets and cancer biomarkers. One of the most intriguing aspects of lncRNAs is their exquisite expression specificity. Through elaborate PAN-cancer omics analyses, we prioritize cancer type-specific lncRNAs as potential targets for therapy and study how they mechanistically affect cancer hallmarks in various cancer model systems. Cancer type-specific lncRNAs are not only attractive targets for therapy, they also qualify as potential biomarkers for diagnosis or treatment response monitoring. By applying state-of-the art RNA-sequencing technology, we evaluate the biomarker potential of these lncRNAs in liquid biopsies from cancer patients. To support this research, we continuously invest in the development of novel technologies (both wet- and dry-lab) and data analysis methods.



  • 2004 Msc. industrial engineering biochemistry
  • 2006 Msc. bioscience engineering cell and gene biotechnology
  • 2011 PhD biomedical sciences


  • 2006-2011: PhD student, Center for Medical Genetics, Ghent University
  • 2011-2015: postdoctoral fellow FWO, Center for Medical Genetics, Ghent University
  • 2012-present: principal scientist Biogazelle
  • 2015-2020: associate professor, Ghent University
  • 2016-present: group leader Cancer Research Institute Ghent 
  • 2020-present: full professor, Ghent University


  • 2011 best PhD thesis, faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, 2500 EUR
  • 2012 best presentation at the Advances in Neuroblastoma Research meeting, Toronto, Canada
  • 2016 price for fundamental research from the Royal Academy of Medicine, Belgium, 2500 EUR
  • 2016 nominated among the top 5 young scientists in Belgium and The Netherlands by the New Scientist
  • 2019 Laureate of the Antione Faes price for ‘A decade of research on precision oncology biomarkers for children with neuroblastoma’,
    50 000 EUR


  • 2008 Neuroblastoma prognostic multi-gene signature
    (EP 08171163.2)
  • 2013 SAMMSON is a therapeutic lncRNA in melanoma
    (EP 13181001.2)
  • 2017 EVREF – extracellular vesicle reference standard
    (EP 17200743.2)
  • 2018 NESPR is a therapeutic lncRNA in neuroblastoma
    (EP 18154813.2)
  • 2018 Metastatic neuroblastoma serum miRNA signature
    (EP 17207577.2)
  • 2019 Recombinant extracellular vesicles

Research team

Key publications

  • Melanoma addiction to the lncRNA SAMMSON. Nature, 2016 (PMID: 27008969)
  • Lung tumours reprogram pulmonary dendritic cell immunogenicity at the microRNA level. International Journal of Cancer, 2014. (PMID:  24789737)
  • LIN28B induces neuroblastoma and enhances MYCN levels via let-7 suppression. Nature Genetics, 2012 (PMID:  23042116 )
  • Synthetic lethality between Rb, p53 and Dicer or miR-17-92 in retinal progenitors suppresses retinoblastoma formation. Nature Cell Biology, 2012 (PMID: 22864477)
  • miRNA expression profiling enables risk stratification in archived and fresh neuroblastoma tumor samples. Clinical Cancer Research, 2011 (PMID: 22031095)
  • The microRNA body map: dissecting microRNA function through integrative genomics. Nucleic Acids Research, 2011 (PMID: 21835775 )
  • An integrative genomics screen uncovers ncRNA T-UCR functions in neuroblastoma tumours. Oncogene, 2010 (PMID: 20383195)
  • The miR-17-92 microRNA cluster regulates multiple components of the TGF-β pathway in neuroblastoma. Molecular Cell, 2010. (PMID:  21145484)
  • MYCN/c-MYC-induced microRNAs repress coding gene networks associated with poor outcome in MYCN/c-MYC-activated tumors. Oncogene, 2010. (PMID: 19946337)
  • miR-9, a MYC/MYCN-activated microRNA, regulates E-cadherin and cancer metastasis. Nature Cell Biology, 2010. (PMID: 20173740)

Contact & links