Our team consist of people from all around the world. The diversity helps our research projects. 

Our team:

Raymond Schiffelers

Head of research

Raymond Schiffelers obtained his PhD in 2001 from Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on Liposomal targeting of antimicrobial agents in bacterial infections. In 2002-2003, he moved to Intradigm Co. (Washington DC) to work on siRNA delivery with nanoparticles. Here he developed the first intravenously administered siRNA nanoparticle for use in pre-clinical experiments.

After he returned, he built his own nanomedicine research group at Utrecht University. He received an NWO Vidi grant in 2007 on targeting inflammation to fight cancer and received an ERC Consolidator Grant in 2010 to explore extracellular vesicles as drug delivery systems. As a result of his ERC Proof of Concept grant in 2011 he founded Excytex bv, a company combining his liposome and extracellular vesicle expertise. He moved to the University Medical Center in Utrecht in 2012 and became professor of nanomedicine in 2015. Since 2016 he is coordinator of B-SMART and EXPERT, two H2020 RIA projects . In addition, he currently coordinates five projects through national grants.

Currently, his group at UMC Utrecht focuses on natural and synthetic nanomedicines and all projects that are currently running are public-private partnerships.

He serves on the Executive Board of the European Technology Platform Nanomedicine as Vice-Chair.

He has (co-)authored >200 publications which have been cited >14,000 times. His h-index is 62. (Data from Google scholar, full list. He is (co-) inventor on 6 patents and editor of the International Journal of Pharmaceutics, Journal of Controlled Release and Associate editor of the Journal of Extracellular Vesicles and Drug Delivery & Translational Research.

Pieter Vader

Assistant Professor

Pieter Vader graduated in Chemistry (B.Sc., 2005) and Drug Innovation (M.Sc., 2007) from the University of Utrecht. He earned his PhD degree in 2012 from the University of Utrecht on the subject of targeted delivery of siRNA to inhibit tumor angiogenesis.

From 2012 to 2014, Pieter was employed as a (senior) postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford, UK, in the lab of Prof. Matthew Wood, supported by a NWO Rubicon fellowship. The research topic was development of small RNA-loaded extracellular vesicles for targeted delivery.

In 2014 he moved back to The Netherlands to continue his work at the University Medical Center Utrecht. Currently, he is Assistant Professor at CDL Research and at the Department of Experimental Cardiology. His main research interests are in the field of therapeutic applications of extracellular vesicles, including unraveling the mechanisms underlying extracellular vesicle-mediated cargo transfer. His research has been supported by a NWO VENI fellowship (2014), ERC Starting Grant (2019) and Dutch Heart Foundation Dekker Senior Scientist Grant (2019).

Olivier de Jong

Postdoctoral Researcher

Olivier de Jong graduated in Biology (BSc) and Biomedical Sciences (MSc, major: Immunity & Infection) at the University of Utrecht. He completed his PhD at the Department of Nephrology and Hypertension at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, where he studied the effects of cellular stress on endothelial cell-derived extracellular vesicles in the context of miRNA delivery, angiogenesis, and extracellular matrix remodeling. Following his PhD, he was a postdoctoral researcher in the research group of Professor Matthew Wood at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford where he studied the regulatory mechanisms of EV-mediated intercellular RNA transfer.

Olivier is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Nanomedicine lab, and is supported by a NWO Veni Fellowship (2019). His research focuses on mechanisms that regulate extracellular vesicle-mediated intercellular transfer of RNA, the role of EV-mediated RNA transfer in tumor progression, and potential therapeutic applications of extracellular vesicles for RNA delivery and gene therapy. To facilitate this line of research, he focuses on designing novel state-of-the-art tools to measure intercellular functional transfer of RNA molecules at single cell accuracy, as well as employing these systems to study therapeutic delivery of CRISPR/Cas9/12a complexes and (si)RNA molecules. He specializes in molecular biology, CRISPR/Cas-based gene-editing technologies, and in vitro models for tumor EV-mediated intercellular communication.

Sander Kooijmans

Postdoctoral Researcher

In 2011 I started my PhD project on extracellular vesicle (EV) engineering for drug delivery purposes in the Schiffelers lab. There, I gained expertise in EV surface engineering and critically evaluated methods to load RNA in EVs. After defending my thesis in 2016, I moved to the lab of Giovanni Camussi in Turin (Italy) to work on the application of stem-cell derived extracellular vesicles in regenerative therapy. One year later I returned to the Schiffelers lab and started to work on the design and optimization of lipid nanoparticles for mRNA-based immunotherapy. In 2019 I was awarded a VENI grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). In my VENI project, I will work on deciphering the role of EV subpopulations in RNA delivery. Using my multidisciplinary experience on both clinically advanced drug delivery systems and exploratory drug carriers, I aim to transform exciting and innovative academic research to clinical applications.

Zhiyong Lei

Assistant Professor

I have worked in many labs and learned a lot from them. In plant molecular laboratory with Prof. Chengbin Xiang, I studied how plants respond to abiotic stress. At the Institute of Biophysics CAS, I studied learning and memory in Dr. Wang’s lab and genome stability in Prof. Jiao’s lab. In the Diabetes Research Center at Brussels, I worked on pancreatic progenitor cells in Prof. Heimberg’s lab. I worked microRNAs on cardiovascular diseases in the experimental cardiology laboratory with Prof. Sluijter and Prof. Doevedans. From 2019, I started to work in between the nanomedicine laboratory with Prof. Schiffelers and the experimental cardiology laboratory. Currently I am involved in the following project:

EXPERT: EXPERT aims at developing a new off-the-shelf delivery system for RNA-based nanomedicines to treat cancer and cardiovascular disease. In the long term, the platform technology could be used for improving diagnostic and therapeutic options for patients with several other diseases. More information regards this project can be found here.

TOP-EVs: TOP-EVs is a novel protein delivery technology using cell-secreted extracellular vesicles developed in our lab. In the long run, we would like to use this technology for genome editing for cardiovascular disease treatment.

Valentina Francia

Postdoctoral Researcher

Valentina is working as a joint postdoctoral fellow between the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Raymond Schiffelers and the University of British Columbia, Canada in the laboratory of Prof. Dr. Pieter Cullis. Her project is part of the Horizon2020 EXPERT consortium. Valentina has studied Molecular Biology at the University of Milan, Italy. She graduated cum laude in 2013 with a thesis on the cellular mechanisms of resistance to cancer drugs. In 2014 she joined the group of Anna Salvati as a PhD student at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy (Netherlands), where she studied the endocytosis of nanomaterials. She defended her PhD in September 2018 and she continued her work at the University of Groningen as a postdoctoral fellow. In December 2018 she became board member and chapter liaison of the BeNeLux&France Local Chapter of the Controlled Release Society. Valentina joined the group of Prof. Schiffelers in November 2019. Currently, she is working at the University of British Columbia, investigating the role of the biomolecular corona of lipid-based nanoparticles in the delivery of nucleic acids.

Daniel Murphy

PhD Student

After obtaining his BSc in Biomedical Science at the University of Warwick and his MSc in Drug Innovation at Utrecht University, Daniel Murphy started his PhD within the Nanomedicine lab at UMC Utrecht in 2017.

He started his project by assisting Dr. Pieter Vader and Dr. Olivier de Jong in the development of the CROSS-FIRE reporter system. He now uses this system to investigate EV mediated RNA delivery and is comparing the delivery efficiency of EVs to synthetic delivery vehicles. Eventually he also aims to determine how EVs and synthetic RNA delivery systems differ in terms of how they deliver their cargo to their cytosolic site of action.

Martijn Evers

PhD Student

Martijn Evers Received his B.Sc. in Pharmacy and his M.Sc. in Pharmaceutical Sciences both from the University of Utrecht. In February 2017, he joined the group of Prof. Raymond M. Schiffelers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht as a graduate student working on the delivery of nucleic acids. His research interests include the development of both lipid nanoparticles and extracellular-vesicle-inspired drug-delivery systems for nucleic acid delivery.

Demian van Straten

PhD Student

After obtaining a B.Sc. degree in Biology (Utrecht University), Demian van Straten finished his M.Sc. in Drug Innovation (Utrecht University) with an internship at the lab of Prof. Raymond M. Schiffelers. Here he focused on extracellular vesicles as a diagnostic biomarker for glioblastoma. Afterwards he was granted the opportunity to continue working at the lab as a PhD student, this time focusing on the treatment of glioblastoma. This project aims to explore opportunities in local delivery of nanomedicine, based on lipid and polymeric nanoparticle loaded hydrogels.

Omnia Elsharkasy

PhD Student

My name is Omnia Elsharkasy, and I am from Egypt. In 2016, I obtained my bachelor’s degree from the faculty of Pharmacy. After that I started my masters at the University of Utrecht in drug innovation after being granted Utrecht Excellence Scholarship. During my masters, I was an intern at the Department of Pharmaceutics, during my internship I gained a lot of experience and grew fond of various drug delivery systems. Afterwards, I moved to the UMCU where I did my second internship at Schiffelers’ lab on different ways of engineering extracellular vesicles for drug delivery. After finishing my masters, I happily continued to work at Schiffelers’ lab as a PhD student in the EXPERT project where I am now exploring extracellular vesicles for the delivery of nucleic acid.  

Mariona Estapé Senti

PhD Student

In 2016, I finished my bachelor in Biotechnology in the University of Barcelona. Afterwards, in 2017, I started the master in Drug Innovation in the University of Utrecht. During my master internship in the Laboratory of Translational Immunology (LTI) in the UMCU and the Pharmaceutics department from Utrecht University, I gained expertise and interest in drug delivery systems and their interactions with the complement system. Additionally, I pursued an internship on organ-on-a-chip devices. In 2018, I started my PhD in the Schiffelers lab in the development of lipid nanoparticles for mRNA-based immunotherapies against cancer.

Pol Escudé Martinez de Castilla

PhD Student

I am a PhD candidate at Raymond Schiffelers’ Nanomedicine laboratory at UMC Utrecht since February 2020. I graduated in Biotechnology at University of Barcelona and in Advanced Genetics MSc at Autonomous University of Barcelona. At UMCU, my PhD research topic includes both Lipid Nanoparticles and Extracellular Vesicles mediated therapy against prostate cancer, as part of the proEVLifeCycle network. I was born in 1996 in Barcelona and I was raised by a liberal family in this same city. Among my passions I have always had a special interest in science and thus it has become my vocation. I like to think of myself as a very curious person with general interests; especially interested in sciences, geography and history. I am a very outgoing and active person who likes to practice all sorts of sports and will hardly ever say no to a new challenge.

Khalid Aldakkak

PhD Student

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Maria Laura Tognoli

Postdoctoral Researcher

After receiving my Int. Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technologies at the University of Bologna, Italy, I joined Dr. Ktistakis’ lab at the Babraham Institute (Cambridge, UK) for an internship focussed on a wide-genome screening of new molecular players of autophagy. I then enrolled in a PhD in Oncology with Prof. E. O’Neill (University of Oxford, UK), where I focussed on deciphering how cancer cell signalling modulates the secretion of extracellular vesicles able to transfer an aggressive phenotype from donor to recipient  cancer cells. I received my PhD in 2019 and continued working on my doctoral work in the same group for a short-term Postdoctoral appointment. In March 2020 I joined the Nanomedicine lab as a Postdoctoral researcher and, under the supervision of Dr. Vader, I will explore the major players involved in EV uptake and cargo release in recipient cells.

Arnold Koekman

Head Technician Research

At the moment I am the head technician of this lab. In this function it is my job to take care of all the facilities of our laboratory including equipment, sales, safety etc. Our laboratory has a accreditation for the quality management system to the guideline ISO9001. It is a nice challenge to take care of a professional and nice atmosphere for topic research.  Further at the moment I perform research within the project NANOCAR were we work with liposomes in the cardiovascular field.

In 2004 I started my career as a research technician by Sanquin Amsterdam at the plasma proteins department, under supervision of Prof. Dr. Koen Mertens, on a project aimed to develop a pharmaceutical coagulation factor IX. After a nice period, in 2006 I moved to the CDL department at the UMC Utrecht. Here I worked first under supervision of Prof. Dr. Jan Willem Akkerman in platelet biology, after this I started as Head technician of the department and worked on different projects on coagulation with Prof. Flip de Groot and later on with Prof. Dr. Gerard Pasterkamp and Prof. Dr. Raymond Schiffelers.

Sandra Drost-Verhoef

Research Analyst

In 2005 I finished my internship at UMC, and I was offered a job as research technician afterwards. I worked for 5 years on several research projects, mostly focused on the platelet activation and storage topic. After this, I switched to veterinary science at the CVI  (Wageningen University). There we studied which genes of the H1N1 virus were involved in adaptation and replication, leading to adaptation to pigs an afterwards transmission to humans.

After 3 years I returned to the UMC and after 1 year of research on the role of LRP8 in hemostasis, I joined the study and trial team of the department for 1 year. 

Since 2016, I switched to vesicles  and liposomes research. I am currently working with Arnold Koekman and Marc van Moorsel on the NANOCAR project.

Jerney Gitz-François

Research Technician

In 2006 I started working as a technician at the University Medical Center Utrecht. In 2012 I joined the Schiffelers lab where I support postdocs (Sander and Olivier) in their projects by performing Western Blots, (q)PCR, cloning, sequencing, cell culturing and dot blotting. In addition, I perform general lab tasks and occasionally assist PhD students in their practical work.

Laura Swart

PhD Student

In 2011 I graduated from the Master Drug Innovation, for my research projects I worked in the Schiffelers lab on extracellular vesicles (EVs) in V600E mutated melanoma. There, I investigated whether these EVs could be used as biomarkers in this disease. After that, I started my PhD project on lipid nanoparticles (LNP) for targeted siRNA delivery in t(8;21) acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in the Heidenreich group at the Prinses Máxima Centrum, in collaboration with the Schiffelers lab. There, I’m focusing on engineering LNPs with surface receptors to increase delivery in leukaemic tissues. After completing my first year, I’m excited to continue with the rest of the project; where we hopefully will come closer to a clinical application for treatment of t(8;21) AML.

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