Short description

uzaThe University Hospital of Antwerp (UZA) was founded in 1979 as a University Clinic affiliated to the University of Antwerp (UA). The University of Antwerp is a publicly funded and fully accredited Belgian university ranked 14 on the top 50 young universities worldwide. It is characterised by its high standards in education, internationally competitive research and entrepreneurial approach. It was founded in 2003 after the merger of three smaller universities. Doctoral programmes are available in all faculties, with more than 1 200 PhD students registered. The University of Antwerp hosts five centres of excellence: Nanostructures (NANO), Molecular Neurogenetics (NEURO), Environmental Studies (ECO), Social Policy (SOCIO) and Evaluation of Vaccination (VAXINFECTIO). The University of Antwerp has about 20,000 students. About 2 500 of these students – exchange students not included – are from foreign countries. Education is student centred and competence‐based. Together the UZA and UA have 3 650 employees. UZA is a dynamic organization rapidly gaining recognition as top‐level academic institute and possesses the full infrastructure to facilitate clinical research efforts. The main goal of this hospital is to meet the high levels of education, teaching and clinical practice, set by European standards. Applied clinical and fundamental research, is therefore highly promoted. The Department of Ophthalmology, at the University Hospital of Antwerp, is regarded as the forerunner in providing and developing specialised treatments. It was by far the first Department of Ophthalmology in Belgium to offer refractive surgery to its patients. The Department of Ophthalmology at the University Hospital of Antwerp has already taken part in many ophthalmological clinical trials organised both by pharmaceutical companies and international scientific societies. The Department of Ophthalmology of the University Hospital of Antwerp has been certified by the European Vision Institute Clinical Trials Sites of Excellence (EVI.CT.SE) and promotes its high standards of quality management system in order to assure continuous improvement of medical care and research. The Department of Ophthalmology at the University Hospital of Antwerp can offer to the EVI.CT.SE network, phase I to IV clinical trials.

Main roles in the project

  • WP5: responsible as a leader of WP5
  • WP8: support dissemination of the project results

Key persons involved

Nadia Zakaria (female) – MD, PhD, Research Professor, Principal investigator

Dr Zakaria  obtained her medical degree from the University of Karachi and went on to obtain her PhD in Medicine with a focus on Limbal stem cell therapy from the University of Antwerp. She currently leads the Ophthalmology Research Team at the Centre for Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine at the Antwerp University Hospital and is a Guest Professor at the University of Antwerp. She pioneered the ‘no touch’ surgical technique for limbal stem cell transplantation which is currently in a Phase II clinical trial. She was awarded the Jules Francois Award in 2009 for her scientific research and important contribution to Ophthalmology. Dr. Zakaria leads a team of PhDs, postdocs, and clinician‐scientists in the areas of corneal regenerative medicine. She has ongoing collaborative studies with research groups in Sweden, Israel, Lithuania, The Netherlands and Hungary. Dr. Zakaria regularly peer reviews for a number of journals including Stem Cells, Translational Medicine, Tissue Engineering, Ophthalmology, IOVS, BJO, APJO and Cornea. She is on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Research and Ophthalmology. She has been awarded numerous grants and prizes among which is the prize for the most innovative research on regenerative medicine with cells and tissues by the Belgian Association for Bioindustries. Dr. Zakaria has received research funding from the Belgian Funds for Research in Ophthalmology, Bakeland Foundation, FWO (Funds for Scientific Research – Flanders, Belgium), IWT (Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology, Flanders, Belgium) and a recent Euronanomed II grant.

Marie‐Jose Tassignon (female) – MD, PhD, Professor, Deputy principal investigator

Prof. Marie‐José Tassignon is the Head of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Antwerp University Hospital since 1990 and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Antwerp since 1991. In 2007 she became Medical Director of the Antwerp University Hospital after having been Vice‐Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Antwerp from 2003 to 2006. She is full professor at the University of Antwerp since 2003 and closely implicated in the national trainees educational program. She is pastpresident of the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons (ESCRS) the European Board of Ophthalmology (EBO). She is member of 18 international societies in ophthalmology and board member in 5 of them. She has published over 150 peer‐reviewed articles, and is member of the Academia Ophthalmology Internationalis recognizing 50 international ophthalmologists worldwide for their innovations in ophthalmology. She has various international patents of which most have been manufactured by industry and implemented clinically. She introduced a novel concept for cataract surgery to solve the problem of secondary cataract formation, which is the major complication of cataract surgery.

Sorcha Ni Dhubhigaill (female) – MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, support PI

Dr Sorcha Ni Dhubhghaill obtained both her primary medical degree and her PhD from the University of Dublin Trinity College. Her PhD was in the field of ophthalmic translational medicine and she was awarded several research medals including the Eithne Walls Foundation medal from Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin and the Barbara Knox Medal from Irish College of Ophthalmologists. She is currently continuing her clinical fellowships in anterior segment surgery in the Antwerp University Hospital. In parallel to her clinical work, she has secured research grants and collaborated on numerous active research projects and publications. She is particularly adept at communicating scientific discoveries and in 2011 she has been awarded the John Henehan Prize for her medical writing by the European Society for Cataract and Refractive Surgeons.

Carina Koppen (female) – PhD, Assistant Professor, support PI

Prof. Carina Koppen is a Senior Staff Member at the Antwerp University Hospital, Belgium. Her subspeciality is Cornea, External Eye Disease and Contact Lenses. She is the Medical Director of the Ocular Tissue bank UZA. She defended her PhD in 2012: “Corneal cross‐linking and keratoconus”. She has been an invited speaker and course faculty at national and international conferences. She has been an organiser of national and international conferences on cornea, keratoconus, contact lenses and related topics. She is currently the secretary general of the European Contact Lens Society of Ophthalmologists.

Joséphine Behaegel (female) – MD, PhD student

Dr. Joséphine Behaegel obtained her medical degree at the University of Ghent (Belgium) in 2014. She continued with a residency in ophthalmology at the University of Brussels, in parallel with a clinical PhD project at the University hospital of Antwerp and Brussels. This research topic covers translational stem cell research in ophthalmology by regenerating the anterior cornea through a standardized transplantation of cultivated limbal epithelial stem cells, and is guided by Prof. dr. Nadia Zakaria and Prof. Dr. Marie-José Tassignon. Additionally she received research funding from the Belgian Funds for Research in Ophthalmology for in vivo confocal microscopy imaging research.



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