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Research unit

Lifecycle:1 Jan 1990 →  Today
Organisation profile:


The Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp (ITM) has a longstanding tradition in tropical and cosmopolitan virus research. The Unit of Virology was home to the discovery of Ebola virus in 1976 and the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus SIVcpz in 1989 as the origin of HIV-1.

The Unit of Virology, led by Prof. Kevin K. Ariën, is dedicated to improving the diagnosis, the understanding of the (re-)emergence and disease mechanisms caused by viral pathogens such as arthropod-borne alpha- and flaviviruses (Chikungunya, Dengue, Zika, etc.) and haemorrhagic fever viruses (Ebola). We provide diagnostic services for individual patients (through the National Reference Center for Arboviruses and the National Reference Laboratory for Infectious and Tropical Diseases), challenge current diagnostic approaches for (re-)emerging viral infections and strive towards new and improved diagnostics for application in tropical endemic regions and during an outbreak context.

Main activities

Since 2014, the Unit of Virology has grown its research portfolio on (re)emerging tropical viruses with a particular interest in unravelling arthropod-borne virus-host-vector interactions at the molecular level to advance the understanding of virus transmission, immune evasion and fundamental pathobiology of Chikungunya and dengue virus. Another major line of research is dedicated to advancing the diagnosis of (re-) emerging viruses through the development of better diagnostic tools that can be applied in poor resource settings and during outbreaks. We develop novel approaches for multiplex molecular diagnostic testing, for more specific serology-based testing and for unbiased metagenomics sequencing. The Unit is running collaborative research and capacity building projects on virus-host interactions and on the evaluation of new diagnostic tests with partners in DR Congo, Peru and Cuba. The Unit is also very active in outbreak-related research and response, such as for example during various Ebola virus disease outbreaks since 2014 (DRC), Zika (Cuba 2017), dengue (Peru 2018), Chikungunya (DRC 2019; Cambodia 2021), SARS-CoV-2 (Belgium 2020, DRC 2020, Mozambique 2020).

The Unit of Virology has state-of-the art BSL3, BSL3+ and ACL3 laboratories, in which it also houses a large and diverse collection of clinical virus isolates of HIV (all types and subtypes), dengue, Zika, Chikungunya, and many other (re-)emerging viruses.

Besides supervising students at different levels (bachelor, master and PhD), formal teaching activities include lectures on general Virology, Molecular Virology and Infections, and Pathogenesis and clinical aspects of tropical infectious diseases at ITM and at the University of Antwerp.