Peter Carmeliet Lab

Research focus

Since over 18 years, we focus our research on unraveling the molecular basis of Angiogenesis (i.e. the formation of blood vessels) and translating these genetic insights in therapeutic concepts and, if possible, novel treatments.

Blood vessels irrigate all tissues and organs of our body, and vessel dysfunction or aberrant vessel growth are critically involved in many debilitating or life-threatening diseases, including cancer. Blocking excessive vessel formation has become a treatment option for certain cancers but current anti-angiogenesis approaches (targeting vascular growth factors) face problems of intrinsic or acquired resistance, a formidable drawback on efficient and safe patient care and cure. We therefore recently initiated an entirely novel approach to block or normalize vessel growth by interfering with the cellular metabolism of the vascular endothelial cells (ECs).

Our latest studies revealed that during the angiogenic switch, when new vessels sprout from existing ones, quiescent ECs reprogram their metabolism to meet the enhanced demand of energy (to migrate) and biomass (to proliferate). Moreover, interfering with specific metabolic pathways stimulated or inhibited angiogenesis in vitro and in physiological and pathological models in vivo. Together, the data demonstrated that metabolism co-determines EC responses, and can even overrule genetic regulatory signals (growth factors), a concept that was previously not recognized and that can be exploited to circumvent issues of resistance against growth factor targeted therapy. Our novel insights include the finding that ECs rely heavily on glycolysis for energy production, and that partial and transient inhibition of glycolysis by blocking the glycolytic activator PFKFB3, inhibits pathological angiogenesis (ocular disease, inflammatory disease) without causing systemic effects. We also discovered that fatty acid oxidation (FAO) is used by ECs to fuel de novo deoxyribonucleotide synthesis for DNA replication. This function of FAO appeared unique to ECs and fibroblasts, and was not observed in other cell types including cancer cells. Pharmacological inhibition of FAO inhibited pathological angiogenesis, indicating the potential translational value of FAO inhibition to complement current sub-optimal cancer therapies.

The above data were obtained using traditional “reverse” profiling techniques, i.e. by genetically targeting a specific metabolic enzyme and characterizing the biological consequences. To complement reverse profiling and further increase the power of our EC metabolism studies substantially, we recently introduced “forward” profiling techniques, in order to define metabolic maladaptation of ECs in human pathology (hyperactive ECs from tumor vessels; dysfunctional ECs in diabetes, etc). This is achieved by applying state-of-the art targeted and untargeted unbiased comparative screening of metabolic pathways and metabolites in disease ECs versus normal healthy ECs. This approach is exploratory, hypothesis-generating and has a high potential of identifying novel, unsuspected metabolic targets. In an analogous manner, we also profile and study cellular metabolism of other vascular cell types (lymphatic endothelial cells; pericytes/vascular smooth muscle cells). The analyses are performed using material from preclinical pathological models (mouse) as well as using patient samples, available via collaborations with various UZ hospital departments. This allows us to map which metabolic pathways are deranged and functionally relevant for the particular disease.

Metabolic profiling is done in a multi-disciplinary approach, using expression profiling of metabolic enzymes (transcriptomics, RNAseq) in parallel with metabolic profiling via radiolabeled substrate-based metabolic assays, GC-MS and LC-MS analysis of cellular and secreted metabolite levels, and 13C-labeled tracers for metabolic fate analysis (collaboration with B. Ghesquière, VIB). Based on their transcriptome and metabolome profile, novel computational genome scale metabolic models (GEMs) are constructed for disease ECs. These mathematical representations of the (deranged) metabolic network of (disease) ECs, allow functional prediction of the effect of blockage of a metabolic enzyme on EC responses and angiogenesis. Validation of the findings is performed using genetic or pharmacological inhibition of metabolic pathways in in vitro models and in angiogenesis models in zebrafish and mice. Finally, for evaluation of preclinical therapeutic intervention, mouse models of pathological angiogenesis are used (tumor models, models of ocular neovascularization, diabetes, neurodegeneration, etc).

> video on basic research on the importance of metabolism in cancer & angiogenesis - Peter Carmeliet
- ©VIB, 2015​​​


The role of fatty acid beta-oxidation in lymphangiogenesisWong B* Wang X* Zecchin A* Thienpont B Cornelissen I Kalucka J Garcia-Caballero M Missiaen R Huang H Brüning U Blacher S Vinckier S Goveia J Knobloch M Zhao H Dierkes C Shi C Hagerling R Moral-Darde V Wyns S Lippens M Jessberger S Fendt S Luttun A Noel A Kiefer F Ghesquière B Moons L Schoonjans L Dewerchin M Eelen G Lambrechts D Carmeliet PNATURE, 542, 49-54, 2017* These authors contributed equally
Role of glutamine and interlinked asparagine metabolism in vessel formationHuang H Vandekeere S Kalucka J Bierhansl L Zecchin A Brüning U Visnagri A Yuldasheva N Goveia J Cruys B Brepoels K Wyns S Rayport S Ghesquière B Vinckier S Schoonjans L Cubbon R Dewerchin M Eelen G* Carmeliet P*EMBO JOURNAL, 36, 2334-2352, 2017* These authors contributed equally
Meta-analysis of clinical metabolic profiling studies in cancer: challenges and opportunitiesGoveia J, Pircher A, Conradi L, Kalucka J, Lagani V, Dewerchin M, Eelen G, Deberardinis R, Wilson I, Carmeliet PEMBO MOLECULAR MEDICINE, 8, 1134-1142, 2016
Fatty acid carbon is essential for dNTP synthesis in endothelial cellsSchoors S* Brüning U* Missiaen R De Souza Queiroz K Borgers G Elia I Zecchin A Cantelmo A Christen S Goveia J Heggermont W Goddé L Vinckier S Van Veldhoven P Eelen G Schoonjans L Gerhardt H Dewerchin M Baes M De Bock K Ghesquière B Lunt S Fendt S* Carmeliet P*NATURE, 520, 192-7, 2015* These authors contributed equally
Partial and Transient Reduction of Glycolysis by PFKFB3 Blockade Reduces Pathological AngiogenesisSchoors S, De Bock K, Cantelmo A, Georgiadou M, Ghesquière B, Cauwenberghs S, Kuchnio A, Wong B, Quaegebeur A, Goveia J, Bifari F, Wang X, Blanco R, Tembuyser B, Cornelissen I, Bouché A, Vinckier S, Diaz-Moralli S, Gerhardt H, Telang S, Cascante M, Chesney J, Dewerchin M, Carmeliet PCell Metabolism, 19, 37-48, 2014

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2018 Heineken Prize for Medicine for Prof Peter Carmeliet for his pioneering research on blood vessel formation

24/04/2018 - Peter Carmeliet from the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology has been awarded the prestigious 2018 Heineken Prize for Medicine for his important and fundamental research into blood vessel formation.

Major international cancer award for Peter Carmeliet

05/04/2018 - Peter Carmeliet (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology) was honored with the 46th annual ARC Foundation Leopold Griffuel Award, a prize of EUR 150,000.

International recognition for Peter Carmeliet (VIB - KU Leuven)

08/06/2017 - Peter Carmeliet of VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology was appointed as an international member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW). It is very exceptional that foreign researchers are allowed to join this network.

Competitive ERC Advanced Grant awarded to Peter Carmeliet for Tumor Endothelial Cell research

23/03/2017 - Prof. Peter Carmeliet (VIB-KU Leuven) is awarded an Advanced Grant. To qualify, a scientist has to be able to prove exceptional leadership and a solid track record of significant research achievements over at least 10 years.

Fat fuels the road to cancer cell spread

26/12/2016 - An international team of researchers, led by Peter Carmeliet (VIB-KU Leuven), discovered how a shift to increased fat utilization is required for the development and growth of these ‘roads’, termed lymphatic vessels – a special kind of blood vessels.

VIB-KU Leuven scientists discover neuron-producing stem cells in the membranes covering the brain

23/11/2016 - In a cross-domain study directed by professor Peter Carmeliet (VIB – KU Leuven), researchers discovered unexpected cells in the protective membranes that enclose the brain, the so called meninges.

Restoring flawed tumor vessels could lead to better cancer treatments

17/11/2016 - Researchers at VIB and KU Leuven have found a novel way to normalize the dysfunctional blood vessels that are typical for tumors. Those vessels play a pivotal role in cancer metastasis.

VIB researchers discover possible strategy against stroke

07/01/2016 - Research led by prof. Peter Carmeliet and dr. Annelies Quaegebeur (VIB/KU Leuven) indicates that inhibition of PHD1 offers protection against stroke, via an unexpected mechanism, raising hope for future stroke treatment.

Blocking the PHD2 oxygen sensor inhibits breast cancer dissemination

30/07/2015 - Scientists at VIB and KU Leuven have shown that reducing the expression of the PHD2 oxygen sensor impairs the ability of breast cancers to metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.

Peter Carmeliet is bestowed the title of baron

22/07/2015 - With the appointment of seven barons, three baronesses, three knights and an earl, King Philip has raised fourteen people into peerage.

New insights in function of fatty acids in metabolism of endothelial cells

10/07/2015 - Sandra Schoors, Ulrike Bruning, Sarah-Maria Fendt and Peter Carmeliet (VIB Vesalius Research Center, KU Leuven) have discovered, contrary to all expectations, that fatty acid breakdown is essential for the proliferation of endothelial cells.

VIB conference - Metabolism in Cancer and Stromal Cells

01/07/2015 - From September 8 – 10, 2015 VIB will host the interdisciplinary meeting on “Metabolism in Cancer and Stromal Cells” in Leuven.

Oncurious NV Appoints Prof Dr Peter Carmeliet as its Chief Scientific Strategy Advisor

26/06/2015 - Oncurious NV, an oncology company focused on the development of innovative medicines for the treatment of pediatric tumors, today announces the appointment of Prof. Dr Peter Carmeliet as its Chief Scientific Strategy Advisor.

Revolutionary new insights into blood vessel formation in cancer

01/04/2015 - Peter Carmeliet and Sarah-Maria Fendt (VIB/ KU Leuven) have discovered a new strategy to counteract blood vessel formation, based on their research which indicates that fatty acid breakdown is essential in the creation of new blood vessels.

Top Talk Peter Carmeliet 'Breaking Boundaries'

18/11/2014 - ​On Tuesday November 18, Peter Carmeliet (VIB Vesalius Research Center, KU Leuven) took his audience on an exploration of the world of blood vessels.

International recognition for Peter Carmeliet - VIB,KU Leuven - as influential biomedical scientist

06/11/2014 - Peter Carmeliet's research has a significant impact, this has been confirmed by an international study who has placed Peter Carmeliet amongst the global top 400 most influential scientists in biomedical research.

Malaria medicine chloroquine inhibits tumor growth and metastases

11/08/2014 - A study by investigators at VIB and KU Leuven has demonstrated that chloroquine also normalizes the abnormal blood vessels in tumors. This blood vessel normalization results in an increased barrier function and in enhanced tumor perfusion.

Wake-up call for more research into cell metabolism

09/07/2014 - New therapeutic avenues for diabetes, inflammatory conditions & cancer.

Partially Blocking Blood Vessels’ Energy Source May Stop Cancer Progression, Blindness, and Other Conditions

12/12/2013 - New research reveals a new strategy to block blood vessel growth in various pathological conditions by depriving them of energy and building blocks necessary for growth.

New target for the fight against cancer and diseases as a result of excessive blood vessel formation

01/08/2013 - New blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) stimulates the growth of cancer and other diseases. Anti-angiogenic inhibitors slow down cancer growth by disrupting the blood supply to the tumor.

New angle to combat malignant brain tumors in children

28/02/2013 - Peter Carmeliet and his team (VIB-KU Leuven) joined forces with scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital in Harvard to study the role of the placental growth factor (PIGF) in the growth of this brain tumor.

AXA supports cancer research of Peter Carmeliet (VIB/KU Leuven) with 1 million euro

24/05/2012 - AXA strongly expanded its support to scientific research on the global risks on the environment, human health and societies. In Belgium 1 million euro goes to Peter Carmeliet (VIB/KU Leuven).

White blood cells as a new diagnostic technique for intestinal cancer

03/02/2011 - The Fournier-Majoie Foundation for Innovation (FFMI) has awarded Max Mazzone of VIB-K.U.Leuven a grant for research into a new method of early detection of colon cancer.

Double gold for VIB and K.U.Leuven - Bart De Strooper and Peter Carmeliet awarded ERC grants totaling 5 million euro

18/11/2010 - VIB researchers Peter Carmeliet and Bart De Strooper have both been awarded Advanced Grants from the European Research Council. ERC Advanced Grants are the most prestigious European research grants, spanning a period of 5 years.

VIB-K.U.Leuven and Oxford Biomedica announce collaborative research project for treatment of ALS

01/07/2010 - Oxford BioMedica and VIB-K.U.Leuven announce an award by the UK MND Association of a research grant to support the further development for the treatment of ALS with gene therapy.

International Recognition for Top VIB Research

28/06/2010 - Two of the five FWO prizes of EUR 100,000 were awarded to VIB scientists, namely Dirk Inzé (VIB-UGent) and Peter Carmeliet (VIB-K.U.Leuven).

Development of Leuven’s candidate medicine against nerve disease ALS moves into higher gear

10/02/2010 - ​The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) has recognized a Leuven lab’s candidate medicine to combat the neurodegenerative disease ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) as a 'weesgeneesmiddel' (‘orphan medicine’).

Research on heart and vascular diseases earns Peter Carmeliet of VIB and K.U.Leuven the Ernst Jung Medical Award 2010

08/01/2010 - ​His pioneering research on heart and vascular diseases and thrombosis has earned Peter Carmeliet the prestigious Ernst Jung Medical Award, one of the highest European prizes for biomedical research.

First trial in patients with a potential treatment of the incurable ALS muscle disease

01/12/2008 - Permission has been granted to start the first safety and tolerability trial on patients for a remedy for ALS. ALS is an incurable, paralyzing neurodegenerative disorder that strikes 5 persons in every 100,000.

On the road to a new cancer therapy − starving the tumor

29/10/2007 - VIB scientists connected to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in collaboration with the Flemish biotech company ThromboGenics, have been studying the anti-cancer action of anti-PLGF.

Tadpole soon to help in the fight against cancer and lymphedema

16/08/2005 -

Promising results in the battle against incurable ALS muscle disease

28/11/2004 - Research shows that rats with a severe form of ALS live longer following the administration of the VEGF protein as a remedy. These results open up new possibilities for the use of VEGF in the treatment of ALS.

Is the zebra fish leading us to new therapies?

28/10/2004 - VIB researchers have shown that new blood vessels do not grow in random directions, but that they are guided by specific signal molecules. This is a major step in the development of new targeted forms of therapeutic angiogenesis.

Growth factor shows therapeutic effects in the treatment of the muscle disorder ALS

19/08/2004 - Belgian researchers from VIB (the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology), lead by Prof. Peter Carmeliet (K.U.Leuven) already indicated the importance of the VEGF growth factor in this illness.

Gene therapy with growth factor seems promising therapy for incurable muscle disorder ALS

26/05/2004 - Researchers from VIB (the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology), lead by Prof. Peter Carmeliet (K.U.Leuven) already indicated the importance of the VEGF protein in this illness, on the basis of genetic studies.

Peter Carmeliet

Peter Carmeliet

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


​M.D.: Univ. of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, 1984
PhD: Univ. of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, 1989
Associated Res. Scientist: Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA, 1989-90
Associated Res. Scientist: Whitehead Institute, MIT, Cambridge, USA, 1990-92
VIB Group leader since 1996
EMBO Member
Adjunct Director, Dept. of Transgene Technology and Gene Therapy 2001-07
Department Director, VIB Vesalius Research Center, KU Leuven, 2008-15
Honorary doctorate at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, 2010

Contact Info

VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer BiologyO&N 4, 9e verdCampus GasthuisbergHerestraat 49, bus 912 3000 LEUVENRoute description