Joeri Aerts
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My research is situated within the domain of immune therapy.  The nature of the research is situated between fundamental (“blue sky”) and strategic basic research, which is the ideal situation for valorization of fundamental research results in an early stage.  The research entails different priorities of the VRWI transition area Health- and Wellbeing: personalized therapy with new markers, cell- and immune therapy.  The focus is on the development of novel virotherapies (oncolytic viruses) for the treatment of cancer.  Cancer immune therapy has experienced a tremendous boost during the last years, especially thanks to the success of the checkpoint inhibitors, antibodies that are aimed at reactivating the immune system against cancer.  Despite this success, still a large number of patients do not respond to this therapy.  Our approach, whereby viruses are used that are specifically aimed at cancer cells, uses the strength of viruses to activate the immune system, which can in turn recognize and remove cancer cells, without the need for identification of tumor-specific antigens (in vivovaccination).  These viruses can easily be modified by inserting genes that further enhance the immune system.

Another research direction that is being explored is the development of novel immune therapies against HIV.  Thanks to the development of novel anti-retroviral drugs HIV infection can be kept under control. However, these drugs are not curative and the patient is obliged to take this therapy life-long in order to avoid that the virus reemerges.  There are however indications that the immune system can suppress the virus for prolonged periods of time, even in the absence of antiretroviral therapy.  For this reason, we try to find ways to boost the immune system in such a way that the patient is taken off therapy for prolonged periods of time, or that he or she can eventually perhaps live without any anti-retroviral therapy.


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