Context and research challenge

Stroke is a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Early diagnosis of stroke and treatment initiation is of major importance for patient outcome, but rapid point of care blood tests are lacking.  Extracellular vesicles (EVs) derived from several cell types of the brain and circulation have been shown to be released into the blood in the acute phase of a stroke event and correlate with the pathophysiology[1]. These hold promise as new biomarker source for acute stroke diagnostics. 
The detection of specific EV subsets in blood plasma is challenging due to their small size, low numbers, low abundance of surface biomarkers, and the presence of other biomolecules with similar properties (size, density, refractive index). This can be overcome by affinity-based methods that target disease-specific EV membrane proteins, thus providing information about rare sub-populations of EVs. Nanoparticles, when surface conjugated with affinity binding ligands, have the potential to enable EV purification from complex biofluids and boost sensitivity of their detection due to their unique physical properties. 

Based on a nanoplasmonic biosensor platform for lectin detection in stroke, developed in the H2020 MSCA-ITN NanoCarb project[2], the goal of this project is to redesign the nanogold-based platform for sensitive detection of plasma-derived EVs for acute stroke diagnostics.


Gold nanoparticles will be conjugated with antibodies and/or alternative affinity ligands (e.g. glycans, nanobodies), characterized, and used to assess their binding of selected EV biomarkers (e.g. ICAM-1/CD54, CD62E) using localised surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) detection and biolayer interferometry. The nanogold-bioconjugates and binding protocols will be optimized using EV isolates in buffer, and the performance of EV detection (sensitivity, specificity, dynamic range, reproducibility) determined. Next, the bioassay will be further developed to allow direct binding and detection of DRS-specific EV subsets in plasma samples. 

The research project combines multidisciplinary fields of research in physics, biomaterial science, surface chemistry and clinical diagnostics.

[1] Stenz KT, Just J, Blauenfeldt RA, Drasbek KR. Extracellular vesicles in acute stroke diagnostics. Biomedicines 2020, 8, 248.
[2] Pancaro A, Szymonik M, Georgiou PG, Baker AN, Walker M, Adriaensens P, Hendrix J, Gibson MI, Nelissen I. The Nature of Polymeric Glyco-Linker Controls the Signal Outputs for Plasmonic Gold Nanorods Biosensors in Complex Media due to Biocorona Formation. Submitted for publication.

With this call, we invite researchers to submit their resumé (including track-record) and a one-page project description, that will be the basis for selecting candidates with whom we will collaborate for developing a competitive MSCA-PF proposal.


Collaboration with academic and/or clinical partner is planned who bring in their expertise in ischemic stroke and access to clinical samples.

Deadline application to VITO

Interested candidates should submit their resume (incl. track record) and a one-page note describing the project for which a Marie Curie grant will be applied, as soon as possible and no later than Friday 30 April 2021 17h Brussels time.


Successful candidates will be supervised by Dr. Inge Nelissen, Team leader Nanobiotechnology. 


Deadline MSCA-PF 2021

Wednesday 15 September 2021 17h Brussels time. 

Target start date

The EU informs the results on the MSCA-PF applications in February 2022. Successful candidates are expected to be available to start within the following two months and no later than summer 2022.


We invite applicants to propose a more detailed and focused research approach within the scope of this MSCA-PF Fellowship as a part of their application. We are primarily looking for experienced researchers who wish to use this period as an opportunity to further develop their research and skills, and to develop longer-term research collaborations with VITO and other institutions conducting research in the field. 
The candidates as in principle must be eligible for a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship – please refer to the conditions set-out in the Horizon Europe MSCA-PF-2021 Work Program, including taking into account the new MSCA Green Charter principles.

The following assets will be advantageous:

  • A background in physics and/or (bio)chemistry with strong biomedical focus
  • Experience in biosensor research and development
  • Hands-on experience with bioconjugation chemistry, physico-chemical characterization of nanomaterials, bio-affinity based technologies, clinical sample fractionation 
  • An excellent track record in research, necessary for being able to develop a competitive Marie Curie Fellowship application;
  • Already published relevant research work in prestigious scientific journals;
  • An open and cooperation-oriented nature, but with strong abilities for independent research work;
  • Highly proficient in spoken and written English.

Initially, we offer assistance in developing competitive Marie Curie Individual Fellowship proposals. 

Then, to successful applicants to the Marie Curie programme, we offer;

  • An exciting opportunity at VITO, the independent Flemish research organisation driven by the major global challenges. Our goal? To accelerate the transition to a sustainable world;
  • Participation in a dynamic professional research & innovation community;
  • Flexible working conditions;
  • An inclusive and friendly work environment;
  • On-boarding assistance and other services.