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Molecular Parasitology

Research unit

Lifecycle:1 Jan 1990 →  Today
Organisation profile:


MPU explored the diversity of Leishmania and leishmaniases for over 25 years, ‘from genomes to eco-systems’. As such, we have developed a relevant laboratory experience in (i) parasitology and (ii) molecular biology both in the high-tech context of a modern lab and in the working conditions of a laboratory in a tropical context.

Since 2002, the unit is headed by Jean-Claude Dujardin, zoologist (Facultés Notre Dame de la Paix, Namur, Belgium), doctor in Sciences (VUB) and graduate in Tropical Medical Biology at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp (ITMA). Full Professor, after heading the department of Biomedical Sciences from 2011 to 2021, he is now focusing on research. He has also a 10% affiliation (associate professorship) in the dept of Biomedical Sciences, University of Antwerp and he is visiting lecturer at UNamur. Jean-Claude Dujardin is recognized as a Leishmania specialist worldwide, combining basic and translational expertise on that parasite and the complex of diseases it causes. Over his whole career, he published 253 papers, corresponding to an h-index of 53 (WoS, 25/01/2022). Since 1992, he has coordinated 7 EU-funded multidisciplinary projects; this allowed him to get a broad international network. Very active in communication in newspapers and social media (1409 followers on Twitter on 09/08/22 @DujardinBiomed ), he is used to make research accessible to a broad public.

Main activities

In MPU, we focus on the following research lines

Since 2001, we developed a unique and holistic expertise on parasite contributors to treatment failure, showing that besides the commonly studied drug resistance, other factors were also playing a role like virulence, infection by Leishmania RNA virus and quiescence. We believe that research on drug resistance and quiescence should be integrated in the R&D for innovative anti-leishmania drugs. This is currently supported by the FWO research project ‘Cellular, molecular and functional characterization of quiescence in Leishmania donovani, the etiological agent of visceral leishmaniasis.’

Since 2008, we pioneered research on Leishmania genomics and integrated it in the research line on treatment failure. Our group established the first reference genome of L. donovani and recently upgraded it. We led projects in which the complete genome of 300 Leishmania isolates was sequenced in their clinical and epidemiological context. This is currently supported by the FWO research project ‘Viral evolutionary analyses as a magnifying glass on parasite population dynamics’. MPU became a worldwide recognized leader in phylogenomics and population genomics of Trypanosomatids. We revolutionized Leishmania genomics by directly sequencing parasite genome in host tissues and studying the genome of single cells: this showed (i) that genome of parasites was very different in the patient and in a culture tube and (ii) that the parasite was exploiting mosaicism as a (pre-)adaptive strategy. This is currently supported by an EWI-SOFI project: ‘ Aneuploidy and mosaicism: a strategy for early adaptation to drug pressure in Leishmania’

Since 1998, we have been developing molecular tools for diagnostics and epidemiology of leishmaniases. Beyond publishing new methods, we have extensively invested in standardization of the developed tools, quality assurance and dissemination. As a result, many laboratories in the world have adopted the developed methods for genotyping and molecular epidemiology. 

On the education side, we are teaching at ITM, the University of Antwerp and UNamur. J-C Dujardin is currently director of the Master in Tropical Medicine (MTM) -orientation Biomedical Sciences- at ITM and G Van der Auwera is the director of the short course ‘Molecular data for Infectious diseases’ (MID). Since 2001, we supervised 13 postdocs, 28 PhD students and 34 Master students.   



General + MTM: jcdujardin@itg.be Twitter: @DujardinBiomed

Experimental research, drug resistance, quiescence, omics, molecular biology, parasite engineering: mdomagalska@itg.be

Evolution, phylogenomics and population genetics: fvandenbroeck@ext.itg.be

Typing and molecular epidemiology + MID: gvdauwera@itg.be