Context and research challenge

The current gold standard methods to diagnose a bladder cancer are cystoscopy and urine cytology. Cystoscopy has a low sensitivity for flat carcinoma in situ, which resembles an inflammation site. Cystoscopy is also operator dependent, especially for the detection of recurrence. This procedure is invasive and patients encounter anxiety. Urine cytology is non-invasive but fails to provide strong negative predictive value for low-grade tumors. Cytological interpretation is also user dependent and can be hampered, for example, by low cellular yield, urinary tract infections, and stones. Due to the high risk of relapse, intensive follow-up of these patients is recommended.

Urine biomarkers are an attractive alternative for the detection of bladder cancer.

In a previous phd project at VITO, non-targeted shotgun tandem MS was used to identify potential protein biomarkers in urinary small extracellular vesicles (sEVs) for (1) the diagnosis of a first bladder cancer tumor and (2) the follow-up of patients to detect a bladder cancer relapse. This resulted in a list of proteins that were differentially expressed. These data now needs technical and clinical validation, since protein biomarkers allow the easy and fast diagnosis of biomarkers in antibody-based assays.


  1. Urine samples of related urological pathologies will be collected in the clinic to filter the biomarker candidates for BC selectivity
  2. In parallel, an independent cohort of BC patients will be selected in a multicenter study and urine samples will be stored for validation purposes
  3. Diagnostic performance of a statistical model that will be based on a selection of best performing biomarker will be validated on the independent BC patient cohort
  4. An easy to use urine based diagnostic test (including a new statistical model) will be developed together with an external partner + benchmarked to the LC-MS based statistical model
  5. Clinical validation of the POC test
  6. Commercialization of the test

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. 


The PhD project that proceeded this project was a collaboration with UAntwerpen. For the collection of clinical samples, we have ongoing collaborations with UZA, AZMM Gent, AZ Herentals and Turnhout. The network of hospitals will be further extended.

For the development and clinical validation of the PoC test, we ongoing collaborations with companies.

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 Prof. Inge Mertens, coordinator of the Centre for Proteomics, a collaboration between VITO and UAntwerpen.

 Further information can be obtained from Prof. Inge Mertens:

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 to be set-out in the Horizon Europe MSCA-PF-2021 Work Programme, including taking into account the new MSCA Green Charter principles.

The following assets will be advantageous:

  • Hand on experience with LC-MS/MS platforms;
  • Basic programming skills in R;
  • 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.