Jan Cools Lab

Research focus

​We try to understand the genetic causes of leukemia, and to use that information to develop novel treatment strategies.
Molecular analysis of leukemias has identified a large number of specific chromosomal defects and oncogenes. This information is used for diagnostic purposes and for risk stratification, but the translation of current genetic insights into therapeutic applications is limited. The general aim of our project is to study the development of leukemia and to develop novel treatment strategies.

We have recently identified several novel oncogenic events in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) using next-generation sequencing, RNAi screens and chemical screens. T-ALL is an aggressive T-cell malignancy that is most common in children and adolescents. Improvement of treatment regimens has led to significant increases in survival, but long-term survival rates for adult T-ALL patients are still below 40%. Using exome sequencing, we have identified on average 8 mutations in childhood T-ALL and 21 mutations in adult T-ALL, indicating that leukemic transformation of developing thymocytes is caused by a multi-step process involving various mutations that affect proliferation/survival, differentiation, cell-cycle control, chromatine structure and stem-cell maintenance. We are currently analyzing the oncogenic properties of specific candidate oncogenes such as JAK3 and CNOT3, and are developing cell-based models and mouse models to determine how these oncogenes cooperate with other oncogenic events.​​


HOXA9 cooperates with activated JAK/STAT signaling to drive leukemia developmentDe Bock C, Demeyer S, Degryse S, Verbeke D, Sweron B, Gielen O, Vandepoel R, Vicente C, Vanden Bempt M, Dagklis A, Geerdens E, Bornschein S, Gijsbers R, Soulier J, Meijerink J, Heinaniemi M, Teppo S, Bouvy-Liivrand M, Lohi O, Radaelli E, Cools JCancer Discovery, e-pub, , 2018
Hedgehog pathway activation in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia predicts response to SMO and GLI1 inhibitorsDagklis A, Demeyer S, De Bie J, Radaelli E, Pauwels D, Degryse S, Gielen O, Vicente C, Vandepoel R, Geerdens E, Uyttebroeck A, Boeckx N, De Bock C, Cools JBLOOD, 128, 2642-2654, 2016
Targeted sequencing identifies associations between IL7R-JAK mutations and epigenetic modulators in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemiaVicente C Schwab C Broux M Geerdens E Degryse S Demeyer S Lahortiga I Elliott A Chilton L La Starza R Mecucci C Vandenberghe P Goulden N Vora A Moorman A Soulier J Harrison C* Clappier E* Cools J*HAEMATOLOGICA, 100, 1301-10, 2015* These authors contributed equally
JAK3 mutants transform hematopoietic cells through JAK1 activation, causing T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in a mouse modelDegryse S, De Bock C, Cox L, Demeyer S, Gielen O, Mentens N, Jacobs K, Geerdens E, Gianfelici V, Hulselmans G, Fiers M, Aerts S, Meijerink J, Tousseyn T, Cools JBLOOD, 124, 3092-100, 2014
Exome sequencing identifies mutation in CNOT3 and ribosomal genes RPL5 and RPL10 in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemiaDe Keersmaecker K, Atak Z, Li N, Vicente C, Patchett S, Girardi T, Gianfelici V, Geerdens E, Clappier E, Porcu M, Lahortiga I, Lucà R, Yan J, Hulselmans G, Vranckx H, Vandepoel R, Sweron B, Jacobs K, Mentens N, Wlodarska I, Cauwelier B, Cloos J, Soulier J, Uyttebroeck A, Bagni C, Hassan B, Vandenberghe P, Johnson A, Aerts S, Cools JNATURE GENETICS, 45, 186-90, 2013

Job openings


Two genes cooperate to trigger leukemia development

20/03/2018 - An international group of researchers led by Prof. Jan Cools of the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Cancer Biology have made a breakthrough in understanding the development of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive cancer of the blood.

ERC-grants for three VIB scientists: boost for innovative research

09/12/2013 - ERC-grants grants for three VIB scientists: boost for innovative research

Research sheds new light on mechanisms of T-ALL, a form of leukemia that primarily affects children

23/12/2012 - In collaboration with international research teams, scientists at VIB, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven have unmasked the ribosome – the molecular machine in the cell that is involved in the production of proteins – as a weak spot in leukemia cells.

Gene loss causes leukemia

17/05/2010 - ​Researchers from VIB and K.U.Leuven have discovered a new factor in the development of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Not the protein, but its location in the cell, determines the onset of leukemia

08/07/2008 - Not the protein, but its location in the cell, determines the onset of leukemia

Progress toward a targeted therapy for a specific form of leukemia

13/04/2007 - Scientists are still searching for the cause of many forms of leukemia, including T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL.

Jan Cools

Jan Cools

Research area(s)


​​PhD: University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, 2001
Postdoc.: Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA, 2001-03
VIB Group leader since 2008

Contact Info

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