About us

Onderzoeksgroep LebeerLab

The idea behind ​​Isala originated in Prof. Sarah Lebeer’s research group – a team of scientists who are fascinated by bacteria and their positive influence on our health. This multidisciplinary team includes microbiologists, bioinformaticians and bioengineers who often collaborate with doctors like gynaecologists and general practitioners as well. The team is driven by serious concerns about the widespread use of antibiotics and the lack of alternatives. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050, more people will be dying of antibiotic-resistant microbes than of cancer if we don’t start using antibiotics more responsibly. Microbiome research can help us design alternative strategies for antibiotic use, but also many other approaches that could benefit women’s health. That’s why this team of scientists will be analysing the precious Isala samples with the utmost care.

Sarah Lebeer

Sarah Lebeer is a professor, microbiologist, bioengineer and the principal investigator of the Isala project. She has been studying the potential of lactobacilli for over 15 years. At the University of Antwerp, she leads the lab of Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology since 2012. Here, several techniques from molecular microbiology and bacterial genetics are combined with functional, microbiome analysis and citizen-science.

Sarah Ahannach

Sarah Ahannach is a PhD candidate, microbiologist and Isala project manager. She helped set up the pilot studies and is responsible for Isala’s logistics, lab research, science communication and social media. Sarah analyzes the microbiome and studies useful microorganisms in the swabs. Finally, she also leads the GeneDoe daughter project to study the potential of the microbial fingerprint in sexual assault cases. 

Eline Oerlemans

Eline Oerlemans is a postdoctoral researcher and worked on the importance of the vaginal microbiome during her PhD. Eline works with research data from Isala both in the lab and behind the computer.

Stijn Wittouck

Stijn Wittouck is a bioinformatician specialized in analyzing DNA sequences of bacteria. He studies how lactic acid bacteria adapt to different lifestyles, and how they interact with their mobile genetic elements. Stijn determines which bacteria are present in the Isala samples and contributes to the statistical analyses.

Gilbert Donders

Gilbert Donders is a gynecologist with expertise in vaginal infections, vulvodynia, and HPV infections/ vaccinations at the University Hospital of Antwerp and the Regional Hospital in Tienen. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Antwerp and the KU Leuven. He also founded the research organization Femicare and is the chair of ISIDOG.

Veronique Verhoeven

Veronique Verhoeven is professor and general practitioner and is specialized in infectious diseases, human papillomavirus, and cervical cancer. She researches detecting infections and cervical cancer on vaginal samples that girls and women take themselves. Within Isala, Veronique provides medical background with small and bigger questions from the Isala participants.

Jelle Dillen is a PhD candidate and in his research, he investigates the compounds produced by beneficial bacteria that can protect against pathogens. Jelle studies the novel bacteria obtained from pink swabs. By genome sequencing and analysis of these bacteria, he searches for novel or alternatives to antibiotics. Additionally, he is the editor of the different videos you can find on the website.

Ines Tuyaerts has been involved with Isala from the start as a lab technician. You might even recognize her from the instruction video. As a lab technician, she was involved in the logistics behind the scenes, has processed many of your samples, and has also communicated to the participants.

Leonore Vander Donck is a PhD candidate and studies the effect of your lifestyle and hygiene habits on the vaginal microbiome. In her PhD specifically, she will study the influence of underwear fabrics on the vaginal microbiome. To investigate this, she uses the bacteria from your pink swabs! Additionally, she also takes care of the Isala Instagram page.

Nele Van de Vliet is a lab technician and first came into contact with Isala during her internship. Where she then helped with the Isala pilot study. In the summer she helped put together the Isala kits and register the Isala samples as a job student. In October 2020 she was hired as a lab technician to help with the lab work for processing the Isala samples.

Sandra Condori is a postdoctoral researcher that coordinates the internationalization of the Isala project with projects in Peru (Laura) and Switzerland (Marie). She is also investigating metabolites present in your swabs. She also motivates (and train) young Peruvian researchers to investigate about the vaginal microbiota. 

Thies Gehrmann is a postdoctoral researcher who performs the important bioinformatic and statistical analysis of the Isala project. With his background in computer science and statistics applied to both fungal and human genetics and transcriptomics, he is now investigating the different types of data collected within the Isala study.

Camille Allonsius is project manager in the Isala team, and helps with science communication and the organisation of the new Isala phases. Sha is also a postdoctoral researcher and worked on the interactions between vaginal microbiome members during her PhD.

Tom Eilers is a PhD candidate responsible for the long questionaires that you filled in extensively. His main focus is the ecology and the role of lactobacilli in carrot fermentations. For Isala, he focuses on the effect of nutrition and lifestyle on the vaginal microbiome.

Caroline Dricot  is a PhD candidate and investigates how the bacteria from your pink swabs impact the immune system of the vagina, both in a protective and pathogenic way. Specifically she focuses on unique metabolites, like vitamines, produced by these bacteria. In the future, she would love to use them for therapeutic purposes. 

But these researchers depend on sufficient samples for their ambitious research design. They are therefore assisted by, among others, Prof. Charlotte De Backer of the MIOS UAntwerpen Research Group and her team, Studio Maria, the Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH),  Sensoa vzw, and almost the entire UAntwerp communication team. They help motivate enough participants and communicate about the importance of vaginal health.

Thank you for financing our research

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
(Grant agreement 852600 Lacto-Be0)
University Antwerp

Thank you to our advisory board

RZ Tienen
Provincie Antwerpen
Endemic UA
Studio Maria