4 March 2018

My name is Marilen Benner, I am German, and I am a PhD candidate at the Department of Laboratory Medical Immunology, theme Inflammatory Diseases.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your child years. 

The earliest dream job I remember was to deliver mail. It seemed like the best possible way to make a living: you get to walk outside and you can even take a dog with you! When I developed a strong affection for underwater life, I wanted to become a marine biologist and study Bobtail squids. As you see, none of these plans worked out. Now, I get to study pregnancy which has fascinated from the moment that I realized how new humans do not just magically appear. However, Bobtail squids are still truly amazing (and studied at the Hawaiian coasts) and I may have not fully given up on that dream job.

What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why that study? 

My favorite subjects in school were language-related. My interests being slightly unspecific, I visited a couple of universities and went through the application procedures for air traffic controllers. In the end I moved to the Netherlands for the Bachelor Programme of Medical Biology. It sounded very interesting to me, getting into the underlying biological problems of disease. And I could still follow some courses on fish every now and then. I soon realized that I wanted to dive deeper into medical research and joined the research Master Molecular Mechanisms of Disease. Luckily, I soon came across the research area tailor-made for my interests. I was able to carry out two valuable internships in Reproductive Immunology. Building up on this experience, I could start my PhD on the uterine immune system in November 2016.

The RIMLS motto is “Today’s molecules for tomorrow’s medicine”. What does this mean for you? 

I am continuously surprised by how little we know about the placenta, providing nutrients and protection for every unborn child. There are so many pregnancy complications arising from errors in the fragile process of placenta formation. More and more evidence also accumulates on how long-term disease risks are rooted prenatally. In line with the RIMLS motto, I believe that understanding mechanisms of healthy pregnancy and the placenta is essential if we want to limit the need for tomorrow’s healthcare.

Who is your great example as scientists? And please give a motivation why.

I first thought about the historic examples of female scientists who enormously contributed to science, defying the conventions of that time by intelligence and perseverance. As great role models in today’s society, I see researchers who commit to science and also create a motivating research environment, in which the focus can be on output and the progress of projects rather than politics. At a Radboud event last year, Guillén Fernández led an inspiring discussion on the need for a change in the academic system. He discussed how overall scientific outcome can only improve when moving away from the pressurized individual by achieving bigger scientific success as a team. To me, this is a great example of someone challenging conventions of the current academic environment.

Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud? 

Let’s see about this at the end of my PhD, I still have 3 years.

Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?

I would do all kinds of -omics approaches on a large cohort of couples and their offspring, during pregnancy and following their child during early life. I would like to combine information to try to understand how neonatal immunity is shaped before, during and after pregnancy. I would invest in people who know how to deal with enormous amounts of data and the statistics involved. 

What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)?

As organized as possible. Except for that designated space for “Things that need to be figured out”. The increasing size of this pile might be related to the energy I spend on figuring out all the (too many) details of a project.

Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her?

My lab mates and I are searching for an office pet. Jeroen Slaats, what would you advise someone who contemplates housing of alpacas?

What type of person are you, quick insights:

a) Mac or PC?                                : PC
b) Theater or cinema?                 : Cinema
c) Dine out or dine in?                 : Dine out
d) Ferrari or Fiat?                         : No Italian or French cars
e) Shopaholic or chocoholic?     : Chocoholic
f) Culture or Nature                     : Nature

Related news items

New EU Research project ImmUniverse

27 February 2020 In this project (31 mEURO), RIMLS and RIHS researchers collaborate with 25 European partners on dissecting common disease mechanisms of Ulcerative Colitis and Atopic Dermatitis. read more

Researchers investigate how stem cells affect the immune system

18 February 2020 RIMLS researchers Irma Joosten and Renate van der Molen, participating in an European study into the treatment of brain damage in premature babies. Is it possible to limit or even partly repair the damage with stem cells? They focus primarily on the effect of those stem cells on the immune system. read more

It is raining Horizon 2020 grants for RIMLS researchers

15 August 2019 Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available and running from 2014 to 2020. This summer, no less than 8 proposals for the Radboudumc have been accepted, 4 of them even as a coordinator. read more

Endometrial natural killer cells remember previous pregnancy

11 February 2019 Dorien Feyaerts, theme Inflammatory diseases, showed that pregnancy induces a memory phenotype on endometrial natural killer cells. However, previous CMV infection is a prerequisite for this memory induction. They published their findings in Cellular and Molecular Immunology. read more

A personal touch of Irma Joosten

3 February 2019 In order to promote interaction amongst colleagues within RIMLS, we have a ‘personal touch’ series setting employees in the spotlight. A light-hearted manner to learn about the colleagues you know and those you don’t! This week: Irma Joosten. read more

TNFAIP3/A20 protein: the gatekeeper in inflammation and autoimmunity

27 August 2018 Paulo Urbano and Hans Koenen, theme Inflammatory diseases, recently published an article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI). read more