Employee Leila Akkari, Ph.D.
Leila Akkari, Ph.D.
Junior Group Leader

My scientific interests on understanding the external cues regulating cancer malignancy stem from early on in my scientific training, with the realization that despite the groundbreaking discoveries of oncogenes and tumor suppressors, effective therapeutic options are still limited. That is because tumor progression relies on more than genomic alterations, and cancers evolve within a complex tissue microenvironment. Thus, to impact therapeutic outcome, our understanding of cancer dynamics and diversity must not solely view cancer cells as the fundamental unit, but as part of an integrated and reactive system centered around heterotypic communication with their environment. To understand tissue-level complexity, I have sought to diversify my skills and expertise throughout my training in an effort to determine the multifactorial cues that underlie tumor behavior. I come from a diverse and multidisciplinary scientific background that ranges from immunology and parasitology, to virology and cancer biology. My personal background is also quite diverse, with roots in Africa and the Middle East, and I have lived in the south of France, England, New York City, Switzerland and now Amsterdam. During these experiences, I have enjoyed meeting new friends, discovering different life styles and culture, and learning how to Zumba!

Employee Shanna Handgraaf
Shanna Handgraaf
PhD candidate

After completing a Bachelor in Human Movement Sciences and a Premaster in Biomedical Sciences, I obtained my Master’s degree in Oncology in 2016 at the VU University in Amsterdam. During this Master, I performed two internships. During the first one, at the division of Oncogenetics, VUmc and Cancer Center Amsterdam, I studied the regulation of sister chromatid cohesion. After that, I went to the group of Dr. Michele Pagano at the New York University Medical Center, where I investigated the role of cyclin F in protein degradation. In March 2017, I started my PhD in the Akkari lab at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, where I work on the dynamic roles of innate immune cells in brain tumor resistance and recurrence post-therapy.Next to working at the NKI, I like spending time on my hobbies. I’ve been playing saxophone and guitar for many years, ranging from jazz to classical music. In addition, I like many different sports, especially soccer, and enjoy photography as well.

Employee Serena Vegna, PhD
Serena Vegna, PhD

I started my research training in the laboratory of Dr Mauro Piacentini at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, where I performed my M.Sc. working in the field of cell death and cancer biology. I pursued my training in Dr Ula Hibner’s laboratory at the Institute of Molecular Genetics, Montpellier (France) as a PhD fellow working on the interplay between hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication and the host innate immunity, in link with liver carcinogenesis. After my PhD, I performed a short post-doctoral training in the laboratory of Pr Fabien Zoulim at the Cancer Research Centre of Lyon (France) working on the impact of hepatitis B virus on liver physiopathology and on the hepatic microenvironment. In September 2017, I joined Dr Leila Akkari’s lab as a postdoctoral scientist/fellow to investigate the role of tumor associated-macrophages in hepatocellular carcinoma microenvironment.

Employee Christel Ramirez
Christel Ramirez
PhD student

After obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical sciences in 2016 at the University of Amsterdam, I proceeded to do the master track infection and immunity. During this Master, I completed my first internship at the Academic medical center (AMC) at the department of experimental molecular medicine where I focused on sepsis. Currently, I am doing my second internship with the Akkari group and will focus on the dynamics of inflammatory tumor microenvironment in hepatocellular carcinomas.

Employee Marnix de Groot
Marnix de Groot

I obtained my MSc degree at the Leiden University in 2017 after I joined a research group in Frankfurt, Germany, where I established an in vitro assay to test for cytotoxic immune cell interactions in 3D models of colorectal cancer (DOI 10.15252 / embj.2018100928). With particular emphasis on CAR NK cells as effector cells, this assay could serve as a platform to pre-clinically assess the efficacy of cell-based immune therapy. Being fascinated by the dynamic interplay between immune cells and the tumor micro-environment, I joined the Akkari group to help understanding the role of various subsets of macrophages in the liver and brain tumor microenvironment.

Employee Daniel Taranto
Daniel Taranto
PhD Student

After working 4 years as a chemical engineer in Brazil, I decided to move to the life sciences' field.  In 2019 I completed my MSc in Life Sciences at Leiden University. There, I did my first internship in Dr van Kasteren's group, where I studied the mannose receptor role in antigen cross-presentation by dendritic cells.  After that, I joined the Akkari group for my second Master internship, where I stayed as a PhD student since December 2019. My thesis research is aimed at understanding how distinct cancer-intrinsic genetic mutations can differently shape the tumour microenvironment in hepatocellular carcinoma, with main focus on tumour-associated macrophages and tertiary lymphoid structures.

Employee Awa Gassama
Awa Gassama
PhD Student

After completing a bachelor’s degree in Health & Life Sciences, I obtained my master’s degree in Oncology at the VU University Medical Center. During this program I was trained in the immunotherapy lab of prof. dr. Tanja de Gruijl, where I studied immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment and tumor-draining lymph nodes in cervical cancer patients. In March 2019, I joined the group of Gerben Borst for my graduation internship, working on a collaborative project with the group of Leila Akkari.  Here, my project focused on the interplay between high grade gliomas and the immune system in the context of radiotherapy. In March 2020, I continued working on this project as a PhD student, thereby focusing on optimizing the (immunological) response to radiotherapy and immunotherapy in high grade glioma’s.

Employee Daan Kloosterman
Daan Kloosterman
PhD Student

I studied Biology at Leiden University where I specialized in Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology. For my first master internship I joined the lab of Ewa Snaar-Jagalska at Leiden University, where I studied the angiogenic role of innate immune cells during the progression of melanoma. For my second internship I joined the Goessling lab at Harvard Medical School in Boston. In this lab I studied the non-canonical functions of macrophages during intestinal development.  In November 2019, I joined the Akkari group to further explore the complexity and importance of macrophages. My project focusses on elucidating the mechanism behind the rewiring of tumor-associated macrophages by brain tumors in response to therapy.

Employee Johanna Erbani
Johanna Erbani

Pharmacist from training, I chose to focus my career on translational research and obtained a Master degree in Cell Biology at the University of Paris Descartes (France) in 2015. I then started my PhD in Brisbane, Australia, at the Mater Research Institute in A/Prof Ingrid Winkler’s lab. My PhD studies focused on targeting the bone marrow microenvironment to improve acute myeloid leukemia response to standard chemotherapy. I joined Dr Leila Akkari’s lab to start my postdoc in August 2020, where I will investigate the contribution of macrophages to glioblastoma resistance to treatment and recurrence.

Employee Masami Ando Kuri
Masami Ando Kuri
Post-Doc – Bio-informatician

I completed my PhD in the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute with Masashi Narita where I investigated chromatin in the context of cellular senescence. Previously, I studied an undergraduate degree in genomic sciences at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM).  I am interested in looking at the innate immune system in the TME and the epigenetic mechanisms involved in its regulation.

Employee Lotte van Mil
Lotte van Mil

After completing a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences at Maastricht University, I started the master Oncology at the VU University in Amsterdam. During this Master, I performed an internship at the department of experimental immunology at the Amsterdam UMC about a BCMA Duobody targeting B-cell malignancies. For my graduation internship I joined the group of Leila Akkari to study the effect of the tumor cell metabolism on metabolically rewired macrophages in glioblastoma.  From September 2021 I have continued as a technician in Akkari’s lab to work in collaboration with Gerben Borst to study the response to radiotherapy, immunotherapy and tumor treating fields in glioblastoma.

Employee Efi Tsouri
Efi Tsouri

After obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Molecular Life Sciences at Radboud University, I completed the research Master’s in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease at Radboudumc.  I performed an internship at the department of Radiotherapy & Oncoimmunology in Radboudumc where I studied the reprogramming of tumor-associated myeloid cells with a focus on lipid metabolism. In my second internship I worked on the identification of T cell migration regulators in solid tumors at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany.  In December 2021, I joined the Akkari lab as a research technician. Here I will be investigating the use of pro-senescence therapy in liver cancer and its effects on the liver tumor microenvironment.