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dr. Sander Herfst

Fields of Expertise: Molecular Virology and Virus Evolution

dr Sander HerfstIn the last five years Sander Herfst's most important achievement was related to airborne transmission of avian influenza H5N1 virus between mammals. With the publication of this research (Science, 2012, first author), one of the most important and urgent questions in influenza research has been answered; he showed that avian influenza H5N1 virus can become transmissible between mammals. This research also demonstrated that antibodies induced by pre-pandemic H5N1 vaccines neutralize the airborne virus and that stockpiled antiviral drugs are effective against airborne H5N1 virus.

The project highlighted new fundamental details about genetic changes required for airborne transmission that had remained elusive so far. With collaborators at Cambridge University UK, Sander Herfst and his team further showed that the individual airborne H5N1 mutations are already circulating in the field, and that the chance of airborne H5N1 virus emerging in the field is small, but not negligible (Science, 2012). Herfst supervised two PhD students to identify a minimal set of genetic markers that rendered H5N1 virus transmissible, and using a wide range of in-vitro assays they elucidated the exact biological traits associated with these mutations (Cell, 2014, last author).  Subsequently, he and others also applied the accumulated knowledge on H5N1 virus to H7N9 virus when this virus emerged in China in 2013, to show that this virus naturally acquired some airborne transmissibility, and shared mutations with airborne H5N1 virus (Nature, 2013).

Teaching
Sander Herfst has been teaching at master's programmes at ErasmusMC Rotterdam, HAN Nijmegen, Radboud University Nijmegen, Ecoles normales superieres Lyon (France) and HKU-Pasteur (Hong Kong) since 2010, on topics ranging from "airborne transmission and pathogenicity of influenza viruses" to "biosafety and biosecurity in practice". Furthermore, Herfst has provided lectures for BSc students at the Erasmus University College Rotterdam, and for the course on laboratory animal science at ErasmusMC. In the last years he has (co-)supervised several PhD-students and BSc and MSc students.


Since 2008, Herfst is the responsible researcher for GMO permits 99-090 (research on influenza virus) and 07-038 (Pathogenesis and transmission of (highly pathogenic avian) influenza viruses). He is also responsible for the high containment (animal) facility (ABSL3+) designed for work on highly pathogenic influenza viruses (including supervision of daily lab work, theoretical and practical training of employees etc.). Together with the facility manager of the animal experimentation center and the biosafety officers of ErasmusMC, Herfst organizes training sessions for employees who want to work in our high containment facilities.


Sander Herfst is funded by the prestigious Dutch NWO VIDI grant and the European H2020 program VetBioNet. He is member of the research team of Ron Fouchier with focus on the molecular biology and evolution of (respiratory viruses) in humans and animals. More information: Molecular Virology and Virus Evolution 

Heine-Medin 2018 award for dr. Sander Herfst. Read all about it: here

Sander Herfst at Dies Natalis 2018: video


More information: Publications