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 Jeremy Tessier
Jeremy Tessier
PhD Student

After a bachelor in cellular and molecular biology, I obtained a Master in oncology from the University of Montpellier. As part of this training, I had the opportunity to perform 3 independent  internships of 6 months​​ at the IRCM of Montpellier, the NKI in Amsterdam and the Karolinska institute in Stockholm. This latest internship in Sweden confirmed my growing interest in the role played by the microenvironment in tumor proliferation and treatment resistance. I therefore joined the Akkari group were I work on elucidating the roles of immune cells in recurrent brain tumors emerging post- cytotoxic therapy. 

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
Master student

Employee Awa Gassama
Awa Gassama
Master student

Employee Luuk van Hooren
Luuk van Hooren

Employee Daan Kloosterman
Daan Kloosterman
PhD Student

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.