Prof. dr. Y. (Yvette) van Kooyk

Medical biologist Yvette van Kooyk is Professor and Head of Department Molecular Cell Biology and Immunology at Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc. She has specialised in the cell processes related to the development of cancer, autoimmune diseases and infectious diseases such as HIV and AIDS. The common factor of these diseases is the deregulation of the immune system. Van Kooyk unravelled how that happens. She discovered that specific sugar molecules (glycans) could stimulate or inhibit the communication between cells of the immune system.

Prof. dr. Y. van Kooyk (Photography: Studio Oostrum/Hollandse Hoogte)Prof. dr. Y. van Kooyk (Photography: Studio Oostrum/Hollandse Hoogte)

According to the Spinoza Prize selection committee, Van Kooyk’s discipline – glycoimmunology – is so complex, that few immunologists genuinely understand it. She is the worldwide expert. Furthermore, she translates fundamental insights into clinical applications. Van Kooyk develops nanomedicines that support the immune system in its fight against cancer and other diseases.

New research field: glycoimmunology

After completing her PhD (cum laude) at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam in 1993, Van Kooyk continued her research at Radboud University in Nijmegen. She unravelled the role of dendritic cells in the control of the immune system and revealed, among other things, how the HIV virus manages to deceive the human immune system. During that research, she discovered two sugar-binding receptors (DC-SIGN and L-SIGN) that both interact with pathogens via the recognition of sugar molecules. She published two highly cited articles on this subject in 2000 in the renowned international journal Cell. With this, she laid the foundation for a new research field, namely glycoimmunology. Since then, almost 1400 papers about DC-SIGN have been published in the biomedical literature.

Use of immune-inhibiting sugars highly promising

In 2001, she returned with her research group to Amsterdam, where she became Professor of Molecular Cell Biology and Immunology at VUmc and established her own lab for glycoimmunology. She discovered that some glycans stimulate tumour growth, whereas others activate the immune system to combat tumour cells.

In 2006, she established the biotech company DC4U for applications of glycoimmunology. Within six years, she hopes to realise a clinical application of immunotherapy against allergies. In the longer term, a vaccine as a treatment for cancer will also come within reach. The treatment of other diseases, such as infectious and autoimmune diseases, could also benefit from this approach of using immune-inhibiting sugars. Van Kooyk's research has enabled the entire field of immunology to profile itself more strongly. Her approach is a classic example of how multidisciplinary research can lead to understanding several diseases and result in highly promising new therapies.

Van Kooyk gives lectures throughout the world at scientific congresses and is the co-author of numerous scientific publications. She has won prestigious prizes, including the ERC Advanced Grant and the Van Loghem Award. In 2017, she became a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). She chairs the evaluation committee of the KNAW Academy Medical Sciences Fund and maintains a very extensive international network. Her Amsterdam research group is a melting pot of researchers from around the world. She is a constant source of inspiration for her students and an inspiring female role model. She provides seminars and lectures for cancer patients in collaboration with the Dutch Cancer Society. In 2018, her short popular scientific film Glycotreat was awarded a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The film illustrates the importance of immunotherapy and the sugar code in cancer. It arose from Van Kooyk's groundbreaking review in Nature Immunology, which was also published in 2018.

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Who is Yvette van Kooyk?


1961             born on 13 August in Amsterdam

graduated in Medical Biology from University of Amsterdam


obtained her doctorate cum laude from the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam and became a postdoc researcher tumour immunology at Radboud University in Nijmegen


published two related papers in Cell. The first describes the discovery and function of an important sugar-binding receptor (DC-SIGN) on the surface of immune cells (dendritic cells). The second shows that DC-SIGN is a receptor for HIV and is involved in sexual transmission. Received NWO Aspasia Grant for top female talent



appointed Professor of Molecular Cell Biology and Immunology at VUmc in Amsterdam



received the prestigious NWO Pioneer Grant and established a glycoimmunochemistry lab for research into the role of sugar molecules (glycans), which pathogens use to deceive the immune system


established Biotech start-up DC4U for immunological applications of glycobiology


received ERC Advanced Grant for research into the design of glycan-based vaccines against infectious diseases and cancer


received Outstanding Oeuvre Award from the Dutch Society for Immunology for top researchers. Became a Van Loghem Laureate


received an NWO TOP Grant together with the LUMC for a study into sugars on antigens in relation to rheumatoid arthritis


elected a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences


her film Glycotreat received the Global Short Film Award in the Best Science and Technology Film category at the Cannes Film Festival

Spinoza Laureates

Information on the Spinoza Laureates dates from the year the award was granted.