Debbie van Baarle (1973), is a senior researcher and Head of the Department Immune Mechanisms of the Center for Infectious Disease Control at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). As of July 2017 she is Professor Immunology of vaccinations, in particular of strategies for viral infections at the UMC Utrecht.

I aim to translate immunological correlates of protection from the individual to the population level to enable better vaccination strategies especially for vulnerable groups.

Debbie is an immunologist with a longstanding research line investigating the effectivity of the immune response to viral infections. To this end, critical features of the T-cell response associated with ‘protection’ from viral infection are studied. To understand the mechanisms underlying proper immune control, we aim to elucidate:

  1. the role of (specific) HLA molecules in guiding protective T-cell responses.
  2. the role of T cell receptor specificity and diversity in viral-infections.
  3. the role of previous infections on the development of novel immune responses to incoming pathogens and vaccines.

These studies will provide insight in features of the cellulair immune response that are important for viral control and necessary for effective vaccination. This knowledge may identify individuals at risk for (certain) infectious diseases and may guide strategies to enhance the immune response to viruses and improve viral vaccines. This knowledge can also be used for personalized vaccination schemes in specific risk groups like older individuals. In addition, it may lead to enhanced understanding of mechanisms of immune protection which can be used for development of novel vaccines.

In addition, immunological knowledge is also used to map the determinants that can influence the effectiveness of the immune response. We expect to address existing and future public health problems that increase the risk of viral infectious diseases and reduce the response to vaccination.


Debbie van Baarle (1973, H-index 30) studied Biomedical Sciences at the State University Leiden, did her PhD at the University of Amsterdam (NL), and worked as a senior staff member at Sanquin Research in Amsterdam (2000-2004) and the UMCU (2004-2008), where she was appointed associated professor at the Department of Immunology and Dept of Internal Medicine and Infectious diseases in 2008. Her main research interest is to identify critical features of the T-cell response associated with ‘protection’ from viral infection or disease progression. Her major scientific contributions have been the functional and phenotypical characterization of virus-specific CD8+ and CD4+ T cells in chronic viral infections, for which she received the "M.W. Beijerinck Premium" (€50.000) from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006. In 2007 she was awarded a ‘high potential’ award from the University Utrecht, an incentive scheme aimed at excellent researchers, to study functional aspects of human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-T cell interaction together with Dr Doctor (Doctor) C. Kesmir. In 2011-2012 she was a visiting associated professor at the Immune Disease institute, Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, where she explored the potential of RNAi to prevent infection at the mucosal interface. As of September 2013, she heads the Department Immune Mechanisms of the Center for Infectious Disease Control, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Debbie van Baarle is (co-)author of 112 peer-reviewed papers, which have been cited ≈ 4000 times, and supervised 17 PhD students.


  • Immunology