Medicine and Health Sciences

Public defences 2024

Attend a phd defence or find the archive of concluded doctoral research

Why women choose homebirth with traditional birth attendants and the effectiveness of interventions to promote institutional childbirth care utilization in rural Gamo zone, Southern Ethiopia, 2017-2022 - Mekdes Gurara (19/06/2024)

JointMekdes Gurara

  • 19 June 2024
  • Time: 4 PM - 6 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Building ​
  • Joint PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. Y. Jacquemyn and prof V. Draulans

Physical activity, participation and health-related quality of life in chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple osteochondromas - Kuni Vergauwen (25/04/2024)

Kuni Vergauwen

  • 25 April 2024
  • Time: 4 PM - 6 PM
  • Venue: Maastricht, Minderbroedersberg 4-6
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. M. Meeus, prof. R. Smeets, prof. I. Huijnen

Novel, rationally designed combination strategies, based on (phospho)proteomic analyses, to enhance the response to cetuximab therapy in head and neck cancer - Hannah Zaryouh (11/03/2024)

Hannah Zaryouh

  • 11 March 2024
  • Time: 4.30 PM - 6.30 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Building Q - room D.Q.002 (promotiezaal)
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. F. Lardon, prof. A. Wouters, dr. J. De Waele

Prognostic value of HPV genotyping in cutaneous warts - Nina Redzic (08/03/2024)

Nina Redzic

  • 8 March 2024
  • Time: 5 PM - 7 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Building O - aula O8 or online
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. JP. Bogers and prof. D. Vanden Broeck

Decoding the Genetic Puzzle of Inherited Cardiac Arrhythmias: Insights from Molecular Autopsy, Genetic Profiling and iPSC-derived Cardiomyocyte Modelling - Eline Simons (06/03/2024)

Eline Simons

  • 6 March 2024
  • Time: 5 PM - 7 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Building O - aula O1​
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. M. Alaerts, prof. B. Loeys and dr. D. Schepers

Automating the Planning of Transcatheter Mitral Valve Interventions: Multimodal and Multiphasic Patient Assessment - Patricia Da Torre Lopes (06/03/2024)

Patricia Da Torre Lopes

  • 6 March 2024
  • Time: 4 PM - 6 PM
  • Venue: Aula Arenbergkasteel, Kasteelpark Arenberg 1, 3001 Leuven or online
  • Joint PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. J. Vander Sloten, prof. J. Bosmans, prof. J. Sijbers and prof. P. Van Herck


About 5 million people are diagnosed with valvular heart disease (VHD) every year in the United States. The most prevalent VHD is mitral regurgitation (MR) and its incidence is expected to rise as a consequence of the progressive increase in life expectancy. Standard of care consists in the surgical repair or replacement of the mitral valve and is associated with excellent clinical outcomes. However, about half of the patients are refused surgery due to the presence of comorbidities and the prohibitive risk associated with such invasive procedures.
Less invasive catheter-based therapies are a promising alternative for this patient population and have been the subject of intense research in the past decade. Nevertheless, there are multiple challenges involved in the minimally invasive delivery of a device to the mitral valve, closely linked to the highly complex and dynamic nature of the valve anatomy, and the large inter-patient variability in terms of morphology, calcium distribution and mechanisms involved in the valvular disease.
In the absence of direct visual access to the heart, medical imaging plays a crucial role in the pre-interventional planning of transcatheter mitral valve replacement (TMVR) and repair (TMVr) procedures. Dynamic imaging, such as transoesophageal echocardiography (TOE) and computed tomography (CT), is key to assess if a patient is eligible for such procedures. Detailed image analysis is performed to determine the most suitable device to be implanted, as well as to estimate the device's optimal position and orientation such that adequate anchoring and minimal interference with the surrounding anatomical structures are guaranteed. This thorough anatomical assessment is performed by a limited number of highly trained professionals. Nonetheless, the evaluation of the mitral valve for the full cardiac cycle can quickly amount to more than an hour. As research on transcatheter mitral valve devices evolves, and the clinical trial results support the transition to commercialization, the number of patients receiving such devices is expected to rapidly increase. Automation of the pre-interventional planning is, therefore, of extreme relevance when aiming at fast, precise, and repeatable patient assessment methodologies. The overall aim of this thesis is the exploration of image processing technologies for accurate patient assessment before TMVR/r procedures. More specifically, we addressed two main aspects of the patient-specific planning, namely the mitral annulus evaluation and the mitral leaflet characterization.
First, one single-phase and three multi-phase statistical shape models (SSMs) of the left heart chambers were generated based on 4D CT images of 50 patients. All models were obtained upon image segmentation and surface optimization. Surface correspondence was subsequently achieved through the adaptation of a warping method which ensures that corresponding points belong to the same heart structure. The single-phase model was generated for the end-diastolic phase. The multi-phase SSMs consisted of one biphasic model including the end-diastolic and mid-systolic phases, and two models comprising ten cardiac phases, one employing image registration and the other employing a fitting approach in order to extract the left heart shapes of the intermediate cardiac phases. The performance of the resulting SSMs is in line with state-of-the-art methods, despite the reduced number of subjects included, suggesting that the use of surface-based shapes can contribute to more accurate models. The increase of the number of cases is planned to confirm this hypothesis and further improve the predictive capabilities of the models.
Subsequently, the best performing SSM was used to automatically detect anatomical landmarks used in pre-interventional TMVR/r measurements. The proposed method was validated against a manual approach performed by three experts. The annular diameters, area and perimeters showed high agreement with the manual measurements, with the largest discrepancies observed in the anterior portion of the mitral annulus. The adoption of a D-shaped annulus representation in alternative to the anatomical saddle-shaped curve, as recently proposed for the planning of TMVR procedures, results in excellent agreement between the proposed approach and the ground-truth measurements.
Finally, a segmentation algorithm to extract the mitral leaflets from TOE images was developed. The proposed method employs particle systems and aims at representing the thin valve leaflets in both open and closed configurations and providing information on the leaflet thickness. The results suggest that accurate representations of the mitral leaflets can be obtained. Furthermore, a correlation between particle strength and leaflet thickness was found, but further work is required to fully characterize this correlation.
In conclusion, this thesis is a step forward in advancing transcatheter therapies, with specific focus on mitral valve repair and replacement. By automating the rigorous pre-interventional planning essential for successful outcomes, we anticipate that TMVR/r procedures will become more prevalent through the inclusion of a sizeable patient population currently being denied surgical treatment.

From Cyclic Stretch to Vascular Ageing: A Comprehensive Analysis of Aortic Tissue Mechanics - Cédric Neutel (05/03/2024)

Cédric Neutel

  • 5 March 2024
  • Time: 5 PM - 7 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Building O - room D.O.O5
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. PJ. Guns, prof W. Martinet

Improving the management of hospitalized presumptive Xpert MTB/RIF-negative tuberculosis cases in Ethiopia - Wakjira Kebede Deyyas (21/02/2024)

Wakjira kebede Deyyas

  • 21 February 2024
  • Time: 4 PM - 6 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Building R - room R.008
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. A. Van Rie, prof. G. Abebe and prof. E. Gudina

Cellular and molecular aspects of skeletal muscle wasting in a rat model of severe burns - Dorien Dombrecht (16/02/2024)

Dorien Dombrecht

  • 16 February 2024
  • Time: 5 PM - 7 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Building O - room D.O.O6​
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. E. van Breda, prof. U. Van Daele, prof. PJ. Guns

Evaluation of performance of diabetes care initiatives implemented in Cambodia - Vannarath Te (16/02/2024)

Vannarath Te

  • 16 February 2024
  • Time: 2 PM - 4 PM
  • Venue: ITM, Aula Janssens, Sint-Rochusstraat 43, 2000 Antwerpen or online
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. J. van Olmen, prof. E. Wouters, prof. W. Van Damme and dr. Ir Por

Implementation of lifelong ART (Option B+) for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in Uganda - Aggrey Mukose (14/02/2024)

Aggrey Mukose

  • 14 February 2024
  • Time: 4 PM - 6 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Gebouw R - room R.0O3 or online
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. JP. Van geertyrudyen and prof. H. Bastiaens

Alternative methodological approaches to assess long-term HIV virological and clinical outcomes in resource-limited settings - Anita Mesic (08/02/2024)

Anita Mesic

  • 8 February 2024
  • Time: 11 AM - 1 PM
  • Venue: ITM, Aula Janssens, Sint-Rochusstraat 43, 2000 Antwerpen or online
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. J. van Olmen, prof. L. Lynen, dr. T. Decroo and dr. K. Ritmeijer

Contemporary Challenges in Human Immunodeficiency Virus Pre-exposure Prophylaxis in Belgium - Thibaut Vanbaelen (31/01/2024)

Thibaut Vanbaelen

  • 31 January 2024
  • Time: 3 PM - 5 PM
  • Venue: ITM, Aula Janssens, Sint-Rochusstraat 43, 2000 Antwerpen
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. E. Florence, prof. C. Kenyon and prof. V. Verhoeven

Factors supporting informed decision-making in breast cancer screening programmes - David Ritchie (29/01/2024)

David Ritchie

  • 29 January 2024
  • Time: 5 PM - 7 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Gebouw O - aula O3 or online
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: Prof G. Van Hal and prof. S. Van den Broucke

Primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases in Belgian primary health care - Naomi Aerts (25/01/2024)

Naomi Aerts

  • 25 January 2024
  • Time: 5 PM - 7 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Gebouw Q - Promotiezaal​
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. H. Bastiaens, prof L. Peremans and prof. P. Van Bogaert

Psychotic depression and cognition in older adults. Differences and similarities with non-psychotic depression in older adults - Tom Vermeulen (19/01/2024)

Tom Vermeulen

  • 19 January 2024
  • Time: 5 PM - 7 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Gebouw Q - Promotiezaal 
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. R. van der Mast, prof. B. Sabbe

Novel insights in the clinical evaluation and management of childhood obesity - Eline Vermeiren (12/01/2024)

Eline Vermeiren

  • 12 January 2024
  • Time: 4 PM - 6 PM
  • Venue: Campus Drie Eiken - Gebouw O - aula O3 or online
  • PhD defence
  • Supervisors: prof. S. Verhulst, prof. B. De Winter and prof. K. Van Hoorenbeeck