prof. Sarah De Saeger (PhD)

CRIG group leader
Sarah De Saeger

Director of the Centre of Excellence in Mycotoxicology and Public Health; full professor (Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences)
Coordinator of MYTOX (association research platform) and MYTOX-SOUTH (ITN, international thematic network); member of Food2Know and Cropfit
Member of Ghent University-Shanghai Jiao Tong University – Chinese Academy of Sciences (Shanghai Institutes of Biological Sciences) - Joint Laboratory on Mycotoxin Research


Research focus

Foods may be contaminated by microorganisms (bacteria, fungi) during cultivation, harvest, storage, processing, distribution, or preparation. Under certain conditions, some fungi that contaminate crops may produce toxic components, such as mycotoxins. Many different classes of mycotoxins (aflatoxins, trichothecenes, fumonisins, etc.) may be produced by a range of fungi. Contaminated crops may be consumed directly, or indirectly, through animal products (meat, milk, etc.) raised on contaminated feed.

Mycotoxins can cause a wide range of toxic effects in humans, from reportedly inducing carcinogenesis or DNA damage, to targeting specific organs, like the kidney, liver, or intestines. Although the health effects of some specific mycotoxins are already well investigated (like aflatoxins), the effect of chronically consuming multiple mycotoxins has not been researched. Therefore, the research line “mycotoxins and human health” aims to investigate health effects, particularly cancer risk, due to long-term consumption of multiple mycotoxins.

The research studies – in close collaboration with the World Health Organization – International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO-IARC) will use one of the largest cohorts in Europe, including half a million subjects from ten countries, namely The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study cohort. Participants’ dietary mycotoxin exposure will be investigated via dietary questionnaires and blood samples, collected at baseline of the EPIC study, which started in 1992, and using multi-mycotoxin levels in foods obtained via EFSA and its member states. Intakes among cancer cases will be compared against non-cancer cases, with a main focus on colorectal, kidney, and hepatocellular cancers. These analyses should tell us more about the relationship between intake of multiple mycotoxins and cancer risk. Moreover, through collaborations in Malawi, dietary exposure to multi-mycotoxins as a predisposing factor for oesophageal and hepatocellular cancer is being investigated.


  • Master in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ghent University
  • Doctor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ghent University
  • Full professor and director at the Centre of Excellence in Mycotoxicology and Public Health

Research team

Key publications

  • Dietary mycotoxins, co-exposure, and carcinogenesis in humans: Short review. Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research, 2015. (PMID: 26596546)
  • Mycotoxin exposure and human cancer risk: A systematic review of epidemiological studies. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 2020. (PMID: 33337079)
  • Mycotoxin exposure assessments in a multi-center European validation study by 24-hour dietary recall and biological fluid sampling. Environment International, 2020. (PMID: 32035364)
  • A concise review towards defining the exposome of oesophageal cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. Environment International, 2021. (PMID: 34543937)
  • FLEXiGUT: Rationale for exposomics associations with chronic low-grade gut inflammation. Environment International, 2022
  • Mycotoxin Exposure and Renal Cell Carcinoma Risk: An Association Study in the EPIC European Cohort. Nutrients, 2022.


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