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The Biomedical MRI Unit is part of the Department of Imaging and Pathology, School of Biomedical

Sciences. It is also part of the Division of Radiology, the Medical Imaging Research Center (MIRC) and the Molecular Small Animal Imaging Center (MoSAIC) of KU Leuven/UZ Leuven. The MIRC has been described above. MoSAIC is an interfaculty core facility at KU Leuven headed by Prof. Uwe Himmelreich, who is also the head of Biomedical MRI Unit.

As part of MoSAIC, the Biomedical MRI Unit combines expertise in state-of-the-art small animal imaging to characterize pre-clinical disease models in terms of physiology, metabolism and function. The members of the group are experienced in the characterization but also synthesis of contrast agents for in vivo imaging, cell labeling protocols, cell characterization protocols (including toxicity) and most importantly in vivo cell imaging which is also reflected by their active involvement in molecular and cellular imaging networks and research projects (see also below). The Molecular Small Animal Imaging Center (MoSAIC) at KU Leuven combines all major in vivo imaging methods in one laboratory. Therefore, most research projects of the group involve more than one imaging method so that broad expertise exists in MRI, CT, optical, radionucleid and ultrasound imaging. Expertise in contrast agent design and testing is available. We have an established chemistry laboratory for the synthesis, functionalization and characterization of magnetoliposomes. In the field of oncology, numerous tumor models have been established and characterized with different research groups at KU Leuven. The main focus hereby is the characterization of glioma but also xenograft tumor models. Expertise and infrastructure is also available for cross-validation of imaging data with histological/ immunohistochemical stainings.

Uwe Himmelreich

Uwe Himmelreich (°1965) has studied physical chemistry. He has more than 25 years of research experience in magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy. He is the coordinator of the KU Leuven

core facility Molecular Small Imaging Center (MoSAIC) with approximately 150 users. As the head of the Biomedical MRI unit, Department of Imaging and Pathology, he is currently the promoter of 4 MSc students and 8 PhD students. His main research interest is the development of methods for the non-invasive characterization of tissue and experimental disease models. Hereby, the development and validation of novel imaging approaches, in particular for multimodal imaging, is one research area of the group. The group is also experienced in the development of cell imaging approaches, including the development of targeted contrast agents (for example for liver cell imaging but also in oncology) and in vivo stem cell imaging. He has published more than 180 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

Degrees & Academic Background

Master in Physical Chemistry (Dipl. Chem. 1989), University of Leipzig, Germany.

PhD (Dr. rer. nat., 1994), University of Leipzig, Germany

Current Position

Professor and Head of Biomedical NMR unit, Department of Imaging and Pathology, Faculty of Medicine/

School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Leuven, Belgium.

Coordinator of the Molecular Small Animal Imaging Center, University of Leuven, Belgium.

Previous Assignments

1989-1993: Research Fellow, Dept. Chemistry, University of Leipzig, Germany

1993-1994: Research Fellow & Manager of NMR facility, Institute of Plant Biochemistry Halle/ Saale,


1994-1996: Postdoctoral Fellow (DFG), Dept. Biochemistry, Sydney Uni, Australia

1996-1997: Research Fellow, Dept. Biochemistry, University of Sydney, Australia

1997: Research Officer, Dept. Physiology, James Cook Uni, Townsville, Australia

1997-1999: Senior Research Officer and Head of MR Spectroscopy, Institute for Magnetic Resonance

Research, University of Sydney

1999-2003: Lecturer, Dept. Magnetic Resonance in Medicine, University of Sydney

2000-2003: Director of Spectroscopy, Inst. for Magnetic Resonance Research, Sydney

2002-2003: Senior Research Fellow, Center for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Westmead Hospital,


2004-2007: Senior Research Fellow, Max-Planck-Institute for Neurological Research, Cologne, Germany

2007-2011: Associated Professor (Hoofddocent), Department of Imaging and Pathology, Faculty of

Medicine, University of Leuven, Belgium.

Brent van der Heyden

Brent van der Heyden (°1994) attained his master’s degree in medical-nuclear engineering technology at the joint scholar program of Hasselt University and the Catholic University of Leuven. During his MSc internship at Maastro Clinic in Maastricht, Brent modelled the adverse effects of respiratory motion in mice on preclinical precision irradiations. In 2016, Brent started his PhD at the physics research group in Maastro. He mainly worked on computed tomography applications for (pre)clinical radiotherapy and was also involved in several other studies related to artificial intelligence, bioluminescence imaging, and dose-guided radiotherapy. His PhD work led to 17 peer-reviewed articles, of which 9 as first author. After finishing his PhD with predicate cum laude in June 2020, Brent joined the lab of experimental radiotherapy as postdoctoral researcher at the Catholic University of Leuven.

As part of the AMPHORA team, Brent will investigate the calibration of preclinical imaging devices and the development of a preclinical dose calculation platform. Both research topics are essential to perform targeted proton therapy in mice.

Bram Carlier

Bram Carlier (°1995) attained his master’s degree in bioscience engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven in 2018. During his studies, he majored in bio-nanotechnology with a master thesis investigating the use of a fiber-optic surface plasmon resonance bioassay for the detection of antimicrobial resistance. Participation in the international student competition SensUs led him to present the development of a novel biosensor for NT-proBNP, a biomarker for cardiac failure, at the Technical University of Eindhoven in 2017. After his studies, Bram joined the Amphora consortium in pursuit of a PhD under supervision of prof. Edmond Sterpin (lab of experimental radiotherapy – KUL d) and prof. Uwe Himmelreich (lab of biomedical MRI – KUL c). Within the Amphora project, Bram is mainly involved in the characterization of the radiation response of the developed ultrasound contrast agents as well as the evaluation of their fate in a biological environment (biocompatibility, biodistribution, etc.).

Tasks and Tools

  • Targeting

Through its involvement in the recently approved Flemish research project NanoCoMIT, which focuses

on targeting of theranostic devices (including EMBs), the lab will provide AMΦOPA with the expertise required to target the UCAs towards tumor cells or tumor endothelium. Benefitting from the results of NanoCoMIT allows AMΦOPA to focus its research efforts towards the design of radiation-sensitive UCAs and avoids redundant efforts and funding spent to selection of appropriate targeting mechanisms.


  • In-Vitro and In-Vivo Evaluation

In close collaboration with the lab of Experimental Radiotherapy (also a member of MoSAIC), the Biomedical MRI unit will perform several evaluations tasks of WP6. In particular, the lab will contribute to the in-vitro bio-compatibility and targeting efficacy assessment of the UCAs developed in AMΦOPA.

In addition, the lab will play an active role in the selection (relevant for targeting) and implementation of the tumor models in rodents. The lab will also perform the in-vivo bio-distribution experiments of WP6.


MoSAIC is partly a biosafety level 2 facility and includes:

• Small animal imaging: 9.4T Bruker MRI and a 7T Bruker MRI (30cm bore, May 2016); micro PET; micro

CT (SkyScan, now Bruker-microCT); two small animal ultrasound systems (VisualSonics); bioluminescence and fluorescence imaging systems (IVIS 100 & IVIS Spectrum); intravital microscopy (CellVizio); EPR for magnetic particle imaging (Pepric); OCT and X-ray based phase contrast imaging.

• NMR spectrometer (Bruker Biospin) and magnetic particle spectrometer (provided by Pepric)

• Integrated animal housing facility (100 IVC mouse and 48 IVC rat cages)

• Small animal surgery laboratory (including surgical microscopes, stereotactic headframes, suite for viral vector work etc.)

• Cell culture laboratory; autoradiography; biochemistry laboratory; basic histology laboratory; animal

behaviour tests (including monitoring etc.)


As part of the Division of Radiology the Biomedical MRI Unit has access to six clinical MRI scanners (1.5 and 3T; one exclusively for pre-clinical studies (Siemens Trio)) and several other clinical imaging modalities. State of the art image analysis infrastructure at the Medical Imaging Research Center (MIRC) is available for image processing, coregistration, quantification, analysis of multi-modal imaging studies etc with staff members co-appointed by MIRC and the Biomdeical MRI unit.

AMPHORA aims to develop a non-invasive in-situ dosimetry system for radiation therapy with the potential of on-line dose assessment by casting ultrasound contrast agents (UCAs) into dose sensing theranostic devices.