PhD student

Leuven VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology

28 Dec 2022


VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology

Peter Carmeliet Lab



24 Jan 2023

In the framework of a collaborative project between the laboratory of Prof. Habiba Alsafar, Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi (UAE) and the laboratory of Prof. Peter Carmeliet, VIB–KU Leuven, Leuven (Belgium) we are recruiting a PhD student to with an interest to focus on immunomodulation of endothelial cells to discover novel therapeutic targets.

The lab of Peter Carmeliet recently started a project with Prof. Habiba Alsafar of the department of genetics and molecular biology at the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (Abu Dhabi, UAE, The laboratory of Angiogenesis and Vascular Metabolism headed by Prof. Peter Carmeliet is one of the laboratories of the Center for Cancer Biology (VIB-KU Leuven CCB,, a research department of VIB (Flanders Institute for Biotechnology) located in the Oncology Department at the KU Leuven (Campus Gasthuisberg, Leuven, Belgium). Both the Khalifa and Leuven lab function as one virtual twin lab, and synergistically combine their joint forces and focus to study similar fundamental questions in vascular biology and angiogenesis, and to develop more efficiently new vascular medicine.

Prof. Alsafar has an open position for a PhD student in the Khalifa University lab. You will be trained in the lab of Prof Carmeliet in Leuven to acquire state-of-the-art technologies. You will be located in the Khalifa lab in Abu Dhabi and transfer acquired knowledge & set-up experiments. You will work in close collaboration between both labs. You will continuously interact with and be trained by/ informed via the Leuven lab.

Background project

The lab of Prof. Alsafar has a strong focus on the identification of genetic risk factors in diabetes, oncology, and vascular diseases. The research of Prof. Peter Carmeliet focuses on the development of blood vessels (angiogenesis) and vascular heterogeneity in health and disease, with the aim to identify novel therapeutic pro- and anti-angiogenic strategies.

In diabetes, a key unmet medical need is to develop cures for the life-threatening medical (cardiovascular) complications. The discovery of new molecular insights and treatments for diabetic cardiovascular complications is highly relevant for the UAE, where diabetes is endemic (ca 44%). In this collaborative project, we will use a novel artificial intelligence (AI)-based target discovery tool to discover ’mystery’ genes and a validation approach based on the lipid nanoparticle (LNP)-RNA technology to manipulate the expression of selected mystery genes. Performing state-of-the-art endothelial cell-geared single cell RNA-sequencing analyses on samples from diabetic patients promises to yield high-impact insights and will produce important sequencing data required for optimal target prediction with our AI tools. See below for more project details.

Job Description

The Khalifa lab is looking for a motivated PhD student to help to discover new therapeutic targets (using bulk/single cell multi-omics) and to bridge the valley of death (by functionally validating these targets). As part of the research team, you will interact with an experienced team of laboratory technicians and researchers. We are looking for dynamic and flexible candidates, willing to step into new adventures, daring to break new grounds outside of their comfort zone, passionate about opportunities to set up new technologies and facilities, not being shy of diving into new fields, being primed and eager to become acquainted with new techniques.

Key Accountabilities:

  • To perform cell culture techniques (endothelial cell isolation and culture), protein & molecular biology assays (e.g. western blotting, PCR, FACS (flow cytometry), siRNA transfection).
  • Histology: fixation, embedding, cutting and (immuno)staining of human and murine tissue. Imaging and analysis of tissue slides experience are an advantage.
  • Assisting and/or performing animal experiments.
  • Performing a collaborative research project, under direct supervision of Prof. Alsafar and Prof. Carmeliet. Team up with members of the Khalifa and Leuven lab.
  • Keep laboratory and equipment clean and organized to ensure safety in the laboratory.
  • Communicating and reporting laboratory results in a professional manner and in digital format (e.g. excel) & participate in seminars.
  • Organize and troubleshoot practical work independently.

Your profile

  • Candidates have a Master’s degree in one of the following areas: biology, biomedicine, genomics, computer science, bioinformatics, pharmacy, or related fields – vascular/immunology expertise is an advantage, but not mandatory.
  • You have experience in a research lab environment.
  • Experience with Genomics, Biology statistical, and epidemiologic data analysis is required.
  • Demonstrated computational analysis skills in complex disease (Diabetes, cardiovascular disease) omics association studies.
  • Experience and training in genomic analyses, Bayesian mapping and epidemiology is a plus.
  • Proven experience in molecular biology, cell culture, biochemistry work and/or other techniques
  • Candidates are familiar with Microsoft Word and Excel.
  • Experience in histology, imaging and animal surgery will be considered as an advantage.
  • Extra added values are: interest in (i) integrating single-cell multi-omics; (ii) competence/interest in analysing and integrating omics- and clinical datasets; (iii) target validation assays
  • You are motivated to work on ambitious projects in an open, dynamic and driven team.
  • You are flexible and willing to learn new technologies.
  • You maintain strong organizational skills; you can work in a team as well as independently.
  • You are accurate and critical on your work and its implementation
  • You have a strong ability to multi-task and meet timelines
  • Good English communication skills, both oral and written, are expected.

We offer

  • The unique opportunity to work in a dynamic, multidisciplinary and international team (in Abu Dhabi-Leuven) where passion for innovation, team spirit and continuous improvement of novel drug therapies, are part of our main goals.
  • Access to, and training in, state-of-the-art technologies in genomics and biomedical research. The Leuven lab has multiple core-facilities, with expertise in cell culture, FACS, metabolomics, (single cell) genomics/ transcriptomics, bioinformatics, animal surgery, mouse transgenesis, immunohistochemistry & in situ hybridisation (RNAscope) and imaging (
  • You will regularly visit and interact with the Leuven lab and have the opportunity to become acquainted with start-up companies.
  • You can expect a varied job in an international atmosphere.
  • Excellent training conditions within a team of experts where personal development is strongly encouraged. Opportunities will cross your path, enabling you to keep on developing your career.
  • Starting as soon as possible.

The Project

The Alsafar and Carmeliet lab apply their expertise and research focus to evaluate and deliver novel therapeutic concepts into clinical development with the ambition to change the life of patients with vasculature-related disorders. The initial priority research focus is to understand better the endothelial cell dysfunction in diabetes and diabetic cardiovascular complications, and to develop endothelial cell-based alternative immunotherapy for cancer.

The molecular basis of endothelial cell dysfunction in diabetes remains poorly understood to date. The emergence of sophisticated multi-omics technologies (a.o. bulk & single cell/single nucleus RNA-sequencing) and computational modelling and biology (artificial intelligence, machine learning), now enables one to delineate in-depth the expression profile of disease versus healthy tissue down to single cell level. Such techniques can now be exploited to identify potential disease-causing or -modifying genes of endothelial cell dysfunction, which in turn may represent targets for diabetes therapy.

For instance, recent successful efforts in generating a single cell transcriptome atlas of endothelial cells  from various healthy and pathological (including tumor) tissues from preclinical models and clinical patient samples have revealed the existence of previously unknown endothelial cell subtypes, including endothelial cells with a resident endothelial stem cell signature, and endothelial cells with a putative immune-modulatory role (termed “IMECs”), key findings being taken into further investigation. In addition, an innovative AI-based tool to predict novel unknow genes in endothelial cells  was created, to develop alternative therapies. Newly AI-identified targets are validated in vitro and in vivo using LNP-based strategies and novel knock down technologies in mice.

A major challenge of current medical research is to translate the obtained high-profile insights into new medicine. We aspire to not only discover new therapeutic targets, but also to "bridge the valley of death" in order to improve drug development.

How to apply?

Applications for this position should be submitted online.

If you have questions about this position, please contact:

- Prof. Habiba Alsafar: or

- Prof. Peter Carmeliet: or

- Katie Van Geyte:

VIB values diversity - in backgrounds and in experiences. The institute needs people from all backgrounds and ways of life to help build a thriving scientific environment. VIB is therefore looking for candidates who are not only strong in their own aptitudes but care deeply about supporting each other's growth. VIB's collaborators are people with different strengths, experiences and backgrounds, who share a passion for science that generates impact in science and in society. Diversity not only includes race and gender identity, but also nationality, age, disability status, sexual orientation, religion and many other parts of one’s identity. All of VIB’s employees’ points of view are key to its success, and inclusion is everyone's responsibility.