dr. Sander Lefere (MD, PhD)

CRIG member
Sander Lefere

Postdoctoral Researcher, Hepatology Research Unit , Dept. of Hepatology & Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine, Fac. Medicine and Health Science, UGent.
Principal investigator: prof. Hans Van Vlierberghe (MD, PhD)


Research focus

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has become the most common chronic liver disease worldwide, paralleling the increasing prevalence of obesity and the metabolic syndrome. NAFLD can progress to hepatic inflammation (steatohepatitis), fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In contrast to other chronic liver diseases, HCC can develop in NAFLD patients even in the absence of liver cirrhosis.
NAFLD is characterized by structural and functional alterations in various non-parenchymal cells, such as stellate cells, endothelial cells and macrophages. Specifically, stellate cells proliferate and differentiate into activated myofibroblasts which produce collagen fibers. The resulting process of liver fibrosis creates a pro-carcinogenic environment. Endothelial cells lose their sinusoidal structure. This is accompanied by pathological angiogenesis, i.e. the formation of new yet leaky blood vessels which promote the infiltration of immune cells. Macrophages promote inflammation and fibrosis, and specific tumor-associated macrophages play key roles in tumor progression.
Our interest relates to unraveling the pathophysiological roles played by non-parenchymal cells in NAFLD and its progression to liver fibrosis and liver cancer using in vivo and in vitro models as well as patient samples.

Key publications

  • Differential effects of selective- and pan-PPAR agonists on experimental steatohepatitis and hepatic macrophages. Journal of Hepatology. 2020;73(4):757-770.
  • Unveiling the depletion of Kupffer cells in experimental hepatocarcinogenesis through liver macrophage subtype-specific markers. 2019. Journal of Hepatology 2019;71(3):631-633.
  • Angiopoietin-2 promotes pathological angiogenesis and is a novel therapeutic target in murine non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology 2019;69(3):1087-1104.
  • Hypoxia-regulated mechanisms in the pathogenesis of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 2016. (PMID: 27091156)


University Hospital Ghent, Hepatology Research Unit, Corneel Heymanslaan 10, Building B, second floor, 9000 Ghent