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Human leukocyte antigen proteins expose the health status of cells to CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) by presenting peptides at the cell surface (with varying copy numbers) processed from the cellular protein content. Analysis of the HLA ligandome (often called immuno peptidome) can provide important insights in the antigenic signature of human diseases. In the context of cancer: mapping the immuno peptidome is an approach to identify new leads for specific peptide centered immunotherapies. Although prediction algorithms have been developed that can predict what peptides are presented by specific HLA allotypes based on the protein expression profile of a cell, biochemical proof is still required if the peptides are the starting point of therapies or vaccines. In addition, rare allotypes are often not sufficiently characterized to accurately predict the presentation of peptides at the cell surface.


Mass spectrometry based analysis of the immuno peptidome is in principle an unbiased method to look at the HLA ligandome either for the identification of new neoantigens or the validation/confirmation of antigens predicted by algorithms. However, although serious progress has been made in terms of sensitivity of mass spectrometry techniques and of identification algorithms, the current immuno peptidomics approach is still limited by the technical sensitivity of the MS analysis and the limitations of the interpretation of the mass spectra. Sensitivity in particular becomes an important issue when moving from analysis HLA ligands from bulk tumor tissue to sorted cell populations where sample quantities become a limiting factor.


In this project, we want to tackle some of these limitations and set-up a more sensitive immuno peptidomics platform for application in the field of (lung) oncology.


Recent developments in mass spectrometry (in particular trapped ion mobility mass spectrometry) and in the field of peptidomics (the none immune counterpart) have the potential to significantly improve the limit of detection and the number of successful peptide identifications in immuno peptidomics. In addition, new (and existing) methodologies for peptide identification will be developed and applied to immuno peptidomics. The pipeline will be applied this to lung cancer in the context of immunotherapy response.


Advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is generally linked with a poor prognosis and is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Since only a minority of the patients respond to chemotherapy and targeted therapies, immunotherapy might be a valid alternative in the lung cancer treatment field, as immunotherapy-based options did demonstrate promising results in some other malignancies such as melanoma. Results from early phase clinical trials, however, demonstrate that both whole-cell vaccines and specific antigen-based vaccinations were unable to prove improvements in survival. Therefore, methods that allow to study the molecular mechanisms underlying the maintenance of the local immune response in regions where tumor cells and immune cells co-reside are crucial. Recently, through the use of mass spectrometry imaging analyses, a number of factors with predictive value for the success of immune therapy were identified (patent filed). The underlying mechanisms, however are not well understood. Since immunotherapy unblocks the activity of T-cells in the tumors we believe that the key may lay in understanding the antigen presenting signatures in responders to immunotherapy.

Outcomes in the analyses will lead to a better understanding of immune response in NSCLC and will likely provide leads for therapy and stratification of patients based on biomarkers.


Collaboration with University of Antwerp

Registration deadline: 6/03/2020



Within the Unit of Sustainable Materials Management, there are ongoing research projects on the production and use of structured sorbent materials, e. g. porous microspheres or coatings, focusing on closing materials cycle. One of the tracks of the KMP (Ceramic Materials and Powder Metallurgy) team is the separation of valuables such as rare earth elements (REE) and precious or critical metals.

Different liquid streams may be identified, such as polluted waters or complex low grade industrial waste streams, on which adsorption using tailored sorbents is the most applicable technology. These are complex streams which different characteristics. For example, industrial wastewaters released in the environment having mild pH (~6 - 8), while complex hydrometallurgical leachates are characterized high pH (>12). Therefore, for their application, the sorbents have to be developed to address needs related not only with their sorption features (capacity, kinetics, selectivity) but also to meet requirements related with mechanical and chemical stability.

The PhD aims at the development of 3D structured sorbent materials with innovative composition for the removal of toxic heavy metals or separation and recovery of critical and economically valuable metals from complex liquid streams with pH ranging from neutral to highly alkaline values (>12).

The research will be conducted mainly from powder to structured materials, with focus on structural related aspects (for enhanced sorption properties and material stability under the (harsh) experimental conditions, e. g. high alkalinity) as well as architectural related aspects (enable ease of handling and lowering pressure drop).

For this project, we collaborate with the University of Antwerp (LADCA) on the basis of the granted joint patent on the production of sorbent materials for adsorption of metal oxyanions (e.g. chromates) (WO2019122398).

Collaboration with University of Antwerp
Registration deadline: 06/03/2020




Within the last decade, porous metals have found their way into many industrial applications. This has been enabled among others by the recent progress made in 3D printing and other additive manufacturing technologies. Biomedical implants for bone replacement, structured catalyst architectures previously impossible to manufacture and a variety of highly designed industrial parts are just some examples.


In order to really benefit from the freedom of design, both the structural architecture and the surface characteristics of the 3D material need to be tuned towards the requirements set for a specific application. The interaction of a fluid or a gas within the porous material occurs at its surface and is typically governed by the combination of the chemical nature, morphology, porosity and roughness of the surface. As such, they are of primordial importance for the final performance of the materials.


The progress in manufacturing porous metals and the trend towards finer feature sizes of the porous architecture necessitate the development of new ways to change the surface of the porous material. One example of an alternative approach for the conventional wash- or dipcoating could be a chemical treatment like e.g. an alkali treatment. Depending on the process parameters, a wide variety of titanates with different surface morphologies can be formed by reaction with e.g. the titanium metal.


As such, this PhD project will explore innovative approaches for tuning the surface characteristics on porous titanium parts which are manufactured by an in-house developed3D micro-extrusion process.


Collaboration with University of Antwerp.

Registration deadline: 06/03/2020


Would you like to improve your career opportunities even more by gaining a doctorate? If so, be sure to familiarize yourself with the opportunities that VITO is able to offer you! Take a look at our PhD topic list.

VITO supports applicants wanting to do research for four years under the leadership of a university supervisor and a co-supervisor from VITO, resulting in the achievement of a doctorate and tying in with other research done at VITO.

Various options are possible:

  • a VITO doctoral grant
  • a doctorate in the context of European collaboration

VITO doctoral grant

At various times each year, VITO publishes a number of doctorate subjects, with the object of supporting VITO research. These subjects are selected carefully in advance, in the context of strategic collaboration with the university supervisor. As such, both the subject and the supervisor will have been established when an applicant starts his doctorate. The subjects selected for doctorates are usually very much application-oriented. View our PhD topic list to select a subject to get more information and apply. Check the PhD regulations for the acceptance criteria (degree, topic,...).

If you are selected you will be notified. From that moment on you get the chance to work out a PhD proposal, together with your promotor at VITO and your university supervisor. You will have to present your PhD proposal to the doctoral jury at VITO.

Doctorate in the context of European collaboration

If you have a particular interest in international issues, a doctorate in the context of a European project could present you with a unique opportunity. VITO participates in European networks, in which doctorates abroad are often made available.

PhD Committee: to empower the VITO PhD community

The PhD committee is an international group of PhD students at VITO, which represents the community of PhD students currently performing their PhD at VITO. The committee works in close cooperation with the Scientific Relations team, which is co-ordinating the VITO PhD programme.

Why a PhD committee?

Inform, connect and involve current PhD-students and attract and inform future PhD-students

  • Reach out to the VITO PhD community and connect between various VITO disciplines
  • Share experiences about their PhD life with current and future VITO PhD students
  • Organise events for VITO PhD-students
  • Shape and improve the PhD-programme at VITO
  • Contact point for potential PhD candidates

Eline Oeyen, PhD at university of Antwerp, Belgium

The PhD committee seems like a nice opportunity to connect all PhD students at VITO! Although we may have different backgrounds, we are all doing research and we can learn from each other. I hope the PhD committee can improve the PhD programme at VITO where necessary. By organizing PhD events, PhD students can exchange experience and knowledge and we can meet experts in the field of research.

Contact: eline.oeyen@vito.be

Alexej Parchomenko, PhD at university of Vienna

Probably, the PhD students represent one of the most diverse groups at VITO. We work at different units, at different Universities, and sometimes stay over longer periods abroad. In this context, we shouldn’t make lives unnecessarily more difficult. Therefore, the PhD committee is an important initiative, which aims to connect PhD students and facilitate the sharing of positive, but more importantly difficult experiences. By providing an informal communication channel for every PhD student I hope to contribute to a continuous improvement of the PhD program, contribute to a more connected PhD community and provide greater visibility of PhD students at VITO.

Contact: alexej.parchomenko@vito.be

Brida Mbuwir, PhD at university of Leuven

As PhD-students, we form an important part of the VITO research community and help in developing significant products to achieve a sustainable and green world. The VITO PhD-committee provides a knowledge and experience sharing platform for PhD-students in the different units, through which PhD-students can motivate and empower each other. Through this platform, I hope to contribute in the continuous process of making VITO more and more PhD-student friendly, enhancing communication/interaction between PhD-students within the same and different units and, experience sharing from VITO PhD-alumni.

Contact: brida.mbuwir@vito.be

Max König, PhD at university of Stuttgart

I have been working at VITO for about one and a half years now. The exchange with other PhD students has helped me get started at VITO, both on my research topic as well as with living and working in Belgium. It also made me realize that a lot of students face similar challenges, whether it is PhD topic itself, soft skills, life after the PhD or juggling expectations between PhD supervisor and VITO colleagues. The PhD committee facilitates this exchange, I am excited to contribute and hopefully help out other colleagues to get started!

Contact: max.koenig@vito.be

Rebekka Van Hoof, PhD at university of Hasselt

The PhD-committee is a nice initiative to bring PhD-students together. Every PhD-student faces various challenges throughout his project. I strongly believe that sharing these experiences with other PhD-students is an important part of completing the journey successfully. At VITO, the PhD- students are very dispersed, working at different places, which can impede the communication. Through the organization of PhD-events, the PhD-committee helps them to meet their fellow PhD- student.

Contact: rebekka.vanhoof@vito.be

Sumit Srivastava, PhD at university of Antwerp

I think that the role of the PhD committee at VITO is more of Hagrid than of Dumbledore: warm, practical, and wild; rather than being detached and intellectual. While the committee may not know the exact solutions to the problems of the fellow students, the problems are listened to and appropriately redirected. The PhD committee at VITO has to operate very differently from similar organizations operating at the universities. I think that one of the major goals of the committee is to sensitize the newer PhD students towards these differences and to help them swim through these challenges throughout their respective PhD journeys. Furthermore, since the students at VITO are placed far from their respective universities, the committee also needs to make efforts to create peer-learning and peer-networking opportunities that otherwise come naturally for the university students. To be able to leverage each other’s capabilities, we need to be aware of each - others' expertise. I think that the PhD committee can act as a catalyst that helps in forming these connections.

Contact: sumit.srivastava@vito.be