Molecular and cellular imaging
The University of Antwerp boasts considerable expertise in microscopical research techniques in biomedical applications. Research facilities include modern laboratory rooms equipped with a variety of state-of-the-art techniques for processing biological specimens towards different types of imaging methods in cell biology, including
- standard light microscopy,
- scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and
- confocal microscopy.
The relationship between morphology and function, both in health and disease are studied with the help of
- (Immuno)cytochemical methods,
- neuronal tracing studies,
- in situ hybridisation,
- semiquantitative biotechnological methods like ELISA, Western blotting, RT-PCR and qPCR.
Current studies include the investigation of the innervation and neuro-immune actions in the gastrointestinal tract in normal conditions and in inflammation models, and the functional morphology and innervation of intrapulmonary lung receptors.
Other functional studies include in vivo multi-unit recordings in anesthetized and awake rodents and in vitro patch-clamp studies of neurons and neuronal networks in brain slices.
Finally, these techniques are applied in morphofunctional and molecular research on viral entry pathways, especially in HPVrelated carcinogenesis.
Small animal imaging
The full range of non-invasive in vivo imaging techniques available at the University of Antwerp allows the study of imaging biomarkers in small animals and animal models.
For small animal MRI imaging, two 7 Tesla 16 cm and a 9.4 Tesla 20 cm horizontal bore MRI systems are currently available, supplemented by an in vivo bioluminescence and fluorescence camera. Additional resources include dedicated equipment for monitoring physiological parameters and EEG, anaesthesia and small surgical intervention (such as stereotactic brain injections) in small animals.
Recently, this expertise has been extended with expertise in micro-PET/SPECT/CT through a collaboration between the University of Antwerp, Antwerp University Hospital and Janssen Pharmaceutica. Available resources include a micro-PET, a micro-CT, a micro-PET/CT and a micro CT/PET/SPECT for molecular imaging, a 3D FMT IVIS spectrum for optical imaging and a micro-radiotherapy device. This is complemented by an on-site SPF animal housing facility and an on-site cyclotron, providing a fully equipped preclinical research platform to facilitate translational research projects.
The expertise in MRI and bioluminescence imaging mainly involves in vivo neuroimaging. Multidisciplinary research projects focus on the early detection, progression and underlying mechanisms of neurodegeneration, neurodevelopmental and mood disorders, but also provide biomarkers for preclinical drug discovery, which is another frontline research domain of the University of Antwerp. Furthermore, endogenous and externally administered stem cell recruitment is visualized and quantified in rodents and songbirds in vivo. Finally, songbirds are studied as a model for seasonal and testosterone-driven neuronal plasticity, auditory processing and learning.
The available expertise in small animal PET/SPECT imaging is currently focused on PET/SPECT applications in oncology, neurology and drug development (compound screening). The on-site cyclotron allows not only flexible access to tracers, but also the development of new PET probes, which can be evaluated in both preclinical and clinical settings, thus allowing truly translational research.
Clinical imaging research at the University of Antwerp relies on a close collaboration with the departments of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine of the Antwerp University Hospital, which are equipped with the latest,
advanced imaging infrastructure (MRI, CT, SPECT/CT, PET/CT) and an on-site cyclotron for radiopharmaceutical purposes.
Apart from the validation of preclinical findings, extensive research is performed on image-based biomarkers for both diagnostic and prognostic purposes. Functional imaging provides insight into the underlying pathology (e.g., oncology) and the effects of pharmacological intervention in diverse disorders, and is applied to assess the potential of neuromodulation as a therapeutic tool for specific disorders. This clinical expertise is also particularly valuable to assure optimal tracer-pathology combinations.
At the University of Antwerp, advanced statistical techniques and algorithms for image processing are continuously being developed in-house, such as model-based statistical and multi-resolution techniques, with applications in image reconstruction, restoration, segmentation and classification. Current research lines include multimodal image registration and fusion, computational physics, high-dimensional clustering and feature extraction.