Callewaert Unit - Medical Biotechnology

Research field: Molecular biotechnology for
biomedical research, diagnosis and therapy

Group leader: Prof. Dr. Nico Callewaert

Tel:+32 9 33 13 630  -  Fax:+32 9 221 76 73

Research topic

Based on strengths in glycobiology, microbial biotechnology, biological system's engineering and bio-analytics, our research group is developing innovative molecular technology to enable novel approaches to study, diagnose and treat immune-system related disease. We exploit the developed technologies for our own research interests in inflammation and immunity, in collaboration with experts within and outside of the IRC. For development and exploitation of our technologies in other fields, we collaborate intensively with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry.  At the moment, our strategic technology development focuses on microbial cell engineering as a basis for the discovery and development of novel immunomodulatory biopharmaceuticals. We are also developing new glyco-analysis tools and animal models to pursue the role of inflammation-induced lymphocyte glycosylation changes in the pathophysiology of inflammatory disease.
For example, we discovered new markers for the non-invasive monitoring of progression of chronic inflammatory diseases (focused on the liver), and these markers are now being validated and translated into routinely applicable diagnostic tests. We are also pursuing potential links between the discovered biomarkers and pathogenesis of chronic inflammatory disease.
We are also investigating and engineering the interaction between the tuberculosis vaccine (Mycobacterium bovis BCG) and the immune system, leading to a novel vaccine.
To enable the production of specific glycoforms of immune effector proteins  (cytokines, antibodies) with customized  therapeutic functions, and to allow more  
robust membrane protein expression, we are engineering the eukaryotic protein secretion system in yeasts and mammalian cells. These technologies will allow the development of more potent and selective therapies of immune system-related diseases.

Area of expertise

  • Biological systems engineering (synthetic biology)
  • Glycoconjugate engineering
  • High-throughput glycan profiling (glycomics)
  • Mycobacterium-host interactions

Technology transfer potential

  • Development of optimized yeast strains for expression of membrane proteins and secreted N- and O-glycosylated proteins
  • Glycomics-based diagnostics development

Selected publications

  1. Tiels P et al. A bacterial glycosidase enables mannose-6-phosphate modification and improved cellular uptake of yeast-produced recombinant human lysosomal enzymes. Nature Biotechnology, 30, 2336-31, 2012.
  2. Festjens N et al. Disruption of the SapM locus in Mycobacterium bovis BCG improves its protective efficacy as a vaccine against M. tuberculosis. EMBO Molecular Medicine, 3, 222-34, 2011.
  3. Deschutter et al. Genome sequence of the recombinant protein production host Pichia pastoris, a methylotrophic yeast.
    Nature Biotechnology 27, 561-566, 2009.
  4. Laroy et al. Glycome mapping on DNA sequencing equipment.
    Nature Protocols 1, 397-405,2006.
  5. Callewaert et al. Noninvasive diagnosis of liver cirrhosis using DNA-sequencer-based total serum protein glycomics.
    Nature Medicine 10, 429-434, 2004.

To top