Universiteit Leiden

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Herman Spaink

Scientific director / professor of Molecular cell biology

Prof.dr. H.P. Spaink
+31 71 527 5055

My research interest is focused on understanding how biological signal transduction functions at a molecular level. A central theme is the investigation of intercellular communication, particularly the communication of cells of one organism with another. For this a highly multidisciplinary approach using methods from biology, chemistry, physics and bioinformatics is used. For all biological research questions the zebrafish is now used as an animal model in combination with cell culture and microbial-based techniques.

More information about Herman Spaink

Research themes

Two major research questions are: How can cells of multicellular organisms recognize the presence of invading microbes? And how can they discriminate between microbes that are potentially beneficial or harmful for the organism? The mechanisms underlying these recognition processes must undoubtedly have been under the utmost selection pressure during evolution since the outcome of new defense mechanism or, alternatively, new symbiotic systems, is of crucial importance for survival. More recently I also became interested in finding parallels at the molecular level of innate immune recognition of microbes and cancer cells. Of great interest is the observation that the recognition mechanisms that are used by all multicellular eukaryotes, ranging from plants to animals, share many highly conserved principles indicating that these principles have developed very early in evolution and that these are highly successful. We still do not understand the molecular mechanisms underlying these principles of conserved recognition processes, especially concerning the recognition of glycans and glycolipids which is one my specific research topics. In addition part of our research has been directed at the development of better techniques for molecular biology, ranging from new applications of biophysical imaging, chemical manipulation tools, high throughput screening and contributions to molecular computing.

Disease models

The above questions are studied in several disease models. These are also used in the research programs of the other staff members ofthe Animal Sciences and Health cluster, which are closely integrated. Examples are the studies on infectious disease models for tuberculosis and studies on the role of the innate immune system in cancer. The zebrafish is used as the model of choice since its optically transparent embryos and possibilities for high throughput screening make this organism perfectly suited for the research questions mentioned above.


I am responsible for all first year cell biology teaching at the IBL. In addition I teachclasses for the studies  Life Science and technology and Biopharmaceutical sciences. I also teach incourses in the master phase of the biology MCB program and in2nd and 3rd year bachelor courses. I have the final responsibility for the thesis of several PhD students shown in this web site and over 35 students have obtained their PhD under my supervision. I have been a member of over twohundred PhD promotion committees in a wide range of natural science disciplines in the Netherlands and abroad.

Scientific director / professor of Molecular cell biology

  • Wiskunde en Natuurwetenschappen
  • Instituut Biologie Leiden
  • IBL Animal Sciences & Health

Work address

Institute of Biology Leiden
Sylviusweg 72
2333 BE Leiden
Room number 5.5.16



  • Directeurencollege van de Professor Jan van der Hoevenstichting voor theoretische biologie van dier Voorzitter en lid