PhD student Hybrid extracellular vesicles coated nanocarriers for targeted stroke therapy

About the function

Ischemic stroke is a severe neurological disorder caused by a sudden occlusion of the brain blood flow, leading to tissue death and thus associated disabilities. It is the second cause of death worldwide. Current treatment options can only help a small part of the patients, highlighting the urgent need for new therapeutic strategies. In this project, you will develop novel nanohybrids, composed of biopolymeric nanoparticles for packaging of active drug compounds and a coating of extracellular vesicles (EVs) to deliver them specifically at the affected brain tissue. The biocompatible and biodegradable nanoparticles will be coated with EVs derived from stem cells which have beneficial effects after ischemic stroke and will enhance the cellular uptake of the nanohybrids. In addition, you will develop and validate new (high-sensitivity) flow cytometry methods for in-depth characterization of the nanohybrid loading efficiency and number, and evaluation of their targeting and fate in cell models relevant to stroke pathophysiology.

You will become an expert in nanomedicine through:

  • Developing novel EV-based approaches for brain-targeted delivery of therapeutic nanoparticles;
  • Contributing to standardization of high-sensitivity flow cytometry methods for multiplex EV and nanohybrid analysis;
  • Following up on relevant technological developments in the field.
Besides your research project you will participate in teaching activities (practical sessions, … ≤30 hours per year), supervision of undergraduate students, and the organisation of 1-2 workshops/symposia.
This PhD project is formally part of the Doctoral School of Sciences and Technology at the UHasselt Faculty of Sciences.

About us

The Health department of VITO is active in the field of sustainable health and personalized medicine, aiming at safe, effective and/or personalized technological innovations. The Nanobiotechnology group of Dr. Inge Nelissen develops new technology concepts and methods for improved biomarker separation and detection in liquid biopsies. The focus of our research is on EVs as a promising tool for medical diagnostics and therapy, for which we have a dedicated technology platform available (equipment and methods for biological sample handling and fractionation, in vitro cell culture, and biomolecular and biochemical studies, e.g. digital PCR, multiplex ELISA, high-sensitivity flow cytometry, LC-MS based proteomics). The lab has strong international links in the nanomedicine field through partnership in European research projects and network organisations (ETP-N, ISEV, BESEV).

Within the Institute for Materials Research (IMO-IMOMEC), the Nanobiophysics and Soft Matter Interfaces research group of Prof. Dr. Anitha Ethirajan focusses on the development of functional materials for advanced biomedical applications (bioimaging, drug delivery, sensing, contrast agents and theranostics). The interdisciplinary group lays strong emphasis on the rational design of nanocarriers and investigating soft matter and nano-bio interfaces. The group has established strong collaborations with both internal (at Hasselt University) and external national and international research groups.

The Biomedical Research Institute (BIOMED) of Hasselt University conducts high-level multidisciplinary research in the field of : (neuro)immunology, neuroscience and cardiovascular disorders. To stimulate progress in human life sciences A. Bronckaers' group is specialized in the search for new therapies for dental tissue regeneration as well for the treatments of wounds and ischemic stroke. The group also has a vast experience in stem cell biology, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), high end fluorescence techniques, advanced in vitro cell culture models (e.g using incucyte real-time cell monitoring, dental organoids) and in vivo models of angiogenesis and ischemic stroke.

About you

  • You hold a Master's degree in biochemistry, bio-engineering or biophysics or equivalent at the start of the mandate, and attained it with (at least) a "distinction" grade, or equivalent.
    Final-year students are (likewise) encouraged to apply.
  • Your eligibility to apply for a personal FWO PhD grant is considered a plus;
  • You are hands-on, performing your experiments in the lab according to plan towards the development and characterization of novel nanohybrids;
  • You have a strong analytical mind allowing you to plan your experiments and statistically evaluate your data, and are able to interprete data against literature sources;
  • You can work independently, as well as in a team;
  • You are motivated, creative, and are interested by both the academic and valorization aspects of EV research;
  • You are a very good communicator and fluent in English, both oral and written;
  • You are eager to learn and to disseminate your research results in the form of scientific articles or communications at conferences;
  • You possess a good background and/or experience in the fields of cell culture, EV isolation and characterization, nanoparticles for drug delivery, and/or nanoparticle-cell interactions;
  • You are willing to contribute to a positive working atmosphere and are able to connect with the different domains and collaborators (practical assistants, PhD students, post-docs, and professors)

Our offer

You will be appointed and paid as PhD student.
We offer a full-time PhD position at UHasselt of 4 years (2x2 years with positive intermediate evaluation). Your main place of work (80% of your time) will be the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO, Health department, Nelissen lab) in Mol, with collaborative activities (20%) at the UHasselt Institute for Materials Research (Ethirajan lab) for biopolymeric nanoparticles characterization, and the UHasselt Biomedical Research Institute (Bronckaers lab) for stem cell-derived extracellular vesicles and in vitro stroke models. You will use state of the art infrastructure in all the involved labs and will work in an enthusiastic team of PhD and post-doc researchers in the field of nanoparticles, extracellular vesicle and stroke research, with many opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations. VITO and UHasselt are within a radius of 100 km from other research institutes such as VIB and the universities of Leuven, Antwerp, Maastricht, Luik and Eindhoven.

Apply for this position

The selection procedure consists of a preselection based on application file and an interview.
It is mandatory to apply via the VITO platform ( A letter of recommendation from the supervisor of your master thesis is required. Preselection is based on CV. After passing pre-selection and an interview, the selected candidate(s) have to submit a grant application file (15 pages) to be defended in front of an expert panel at VITO.

Apply now
Apply up to 21.08.2022

Question about this vacancy?

For substantive questions, send an e-mail to or or For questions about the selection procedure, please email



Prof. dr. Anitha ETHIRAJAN


Prof. dr. ir. Koen VANDEWAL

Full professor