RIMLS highlights 2017
Anouk Becker MSc Thesis awardDuring her Master's program Anouk Becker carried out an internship and subsequently wrote her thesis. Because of her outstanding work, she was elected for the RIMLS MSc thesis prize.
Emmy Fleuren Goes abroadEmmy Fleuren published several instrumental papers during her PhD project at the department of Medical Oncology, including a paper entitled “Phosphoproteomic profiling reveals ALK and MET as novel actionable targets across synovial sarcoma subtypes” in Cancer Research.
This formed the basis for a successful application for an NWO Rubicon grant allowing her to further improve her scientific skills in the lab of Roger Daly at the Institute of Cancer Research of the Monash University. Here, she is studying synthetic lethality, a potential weak spot in cancer cells. There are indications that this may play a role in certain types of childhood cancers, including AYA sarcomas. Emmy plans to 'exploit' these weak spots in order to develop a specific therapy.
Jeroen de Baaij The rewards of multiple grants
Jeroen de Baaij from the department of Physiology (theme: Renal disorders) was awarded not one, but three personal grants in 2017, adding up to € 750,000. It not only allows him to continue the research into magnesium deficiencies he started as a PhD candidate but also to set up his own research team. Jeroen is excited that he can shift focus from a rare disease to issues that effect a larger population. It’s no wonder that both the Dutch kidney and diabetes foundations are supporting his research. Summing up, he was awarded the following personal grants in 2017: Veni Grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), a Junior Kolff Fellowship from the Dutch Kidney Foundation and a Junior Fellowship from the Dutch Diabetes Research Foundation. Jeroen is also part of a consortium that was awarded a grant.
Q1 What are you going to research with these funds?
“My research will build on what I studied as a PhD candidate. I looked at the genetic origin of disease in patients with magnesium disturbances. Renal magnesium wasting is often the cause of hypomagnesemia in patients. Magnesium deficiency can cause such things as fatigue, generalized weakness, muscle cramps and abnormal heart rhythms. As a PhD candidate I looked at rare diseases and was so able to concentrate on one defect. Now I turn my attention to a larger population.
Magnesium deficiency, for example, is also connected to diabetes. One in three diabetic patients has a magnesium deficiency. What is the correlation: does diabetes cause the magnesium deficiency or does magnesium deficiency contribute to the development of diabetes?
My current research project 'The magnesium journey through the renal cell: how to get out?' will examine the cells that transport magnesium in the kidney. For fifteen years, it’s been known how magnesium enters these kidney cells, but the mechanism of subsequent extrusion to the blood compartment remains elusive.”
Q2 The received funding allows you to set up your own team. Such a large team is happening sooner than it might otherwise have. Does leading a team make you nervous?
“No, not at all. I get great energy from a team. As a starting postdoc, I also had the funds to get assistance. I got the chance to train people and I really enjoy supervising other researchers. Watching them grow is rewarding. It doesn’t put pressure on me but I’m aware that to continue with a team I’ll need to keep the funds coming in. There’s a time pressure. You cannot slack on finding funding or on getting research results. For example, you can only apply for a Veni, Vidi or Vici grant within a certain amount of years after your PhD. With the current grants I can move forward for a few years, but soon I’ll have to start applying for new grants again.”
Q3 I’m guessing, having to apply for these grants takes a lot of time. Do you think it’s a lot of precious time that’s taken away from research?
“I’ve been very fortunate to have received a number of grants. I can imagine if you’ve spent a lot of time applying but not receiving anything, that it can be frustrating. I do feel, though, that there’s value to applying for grants. It helps shape your ideas. You can easily get distracted by all the small issues and possible paths that a project can take. Grant writing forces you to make clear decisions.
There is, however, a long waiting process which can be tiresome. I might write a proposal in January and not hear until December if I got the grant. In between there are lots of steps that also demand your time and attention.”
Q4 You received two funds from a foundation. Did your research have to have a clear outcome for patients to be applicable for these grants?
“A foundation does want the benefits for their target group to be clear. And that’s fair enough. People have spent lots of time gathering funds for these specific patients. The role of the patient is more important for foundations. The Veni grant, for example, focuses much more on pure scientific issues and academic talent. I will continue in research as long as the questions are interesting and I can get to the next step
But it’s wrong to think that foundations are specifically looking for a new treatment. When applying for these grants I concentrated more on the patients. For one application I even consulted with some patients and took their comments on board. When I had the chance to talk to patients, I realized that for them, finding a treatment is not all they want from research. For them understanding what is happening and why it’s happening is also important. Simply knowing can make a huge difference to them.”
Q5 Was it always clear to you that you wanted to help patients by doing research?
“To be honest, when I began studying Biology, I thought the last thing I’d be doing was research. I guess I had a naïve image of researcher: a pipette in hand, tucked away in a lab. But during my Master’s in France I realized it’s so much more. It’s about solving puzzles. It’s also about working together. Research can be a slow process but it’s also so rewarding.
I will continue in research as long as the questions are interesting and I can get to the next step. I’m really not sure where the questions will take me. We’ll see.”
Tom Schirris Several personal grantsJunior Research Fellowship of Wolfson College Cambridge
Tom Schirris, was elected to a prestigious Junior Research Fellowship of Wolfson College, which is a leading academic research institution as one of the 31 colleges in the University of Cambridge. Tom is currently studying mitochondrial transporters at the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit in Cambridge and as a Junior Research Fellow of the College it is his duty to undertake postdoctoral work and promote scholarship in this subject. Tom’s formal admission as a Fellow took place at the meeting of the Governing Body on 17 October 2017.
Read full news article.
Prof. Dr. van Zwieten award
At the 40th anniversary jubilee meeting of the Dutch Pharmacological Society on 1 June 2017 in Utrecht, Tom Schirris received the Prof. Dr. Van Zwieten award for his doctoral thesis. Tom defended his thesis cum laude in December 2016 and he is currently studying the pharmacological aspects of mitochondrial transporters at the MRC Biology Unit of Cambridge University, funded by an EMBO Long-Term Fellowship. More information about the Prof. Dr. Van Zwieten award click here.
Read full news article.
Joep van den Bercken prize
The cum laude PhD thesis of Tom was also recognized by the Netherlands Society of Toxicology as best contribution to the field in 2016. At the annual meeting of the society on June 20 2017 in Doorn, Tom received the Joep van den Bercken prize along with a certificate and € 1000. Tom gave an excellent presentation on his work, in which he showed how cross-fertilizing connections between systems medicine, toxicology and mitochondrial biology has resulted in new insights into the understanding of side effects of drugs and treatment of metabolic disorders.
Read full news article.