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Molecular Carcinogenesis: René Bernards


René Bernards, Ph.D. professorGroup leader

About René Bernards

Functional Cancer Genetics

Cancer remains difficult to treat, even with the new generation of targeted cancer drugs. By far the most formidable obstacle is the rapid emergence of therapy resistance. Indeed, many of the new cancer drugs elicit powerful initial responses, leading to dramatic effects on progression free survival, but far less long-term benefit is seen in terms of overall survival.

Combination therapies can help fight therapy resistance, but with an arsenal of over 1000 cancer drugs in clinical development, the number of possible combinations seems nearly endless. In my laboratory we employ functional genetic screens to find powerful combinations of cancer drugs by exploiting the concept of "synthetic lethality". Using RNA interference-based genetic screens with collections of shRNAs that target drugable gene families, we search for genes whose inactivation is particularly synergistic with clinically-relevant cancer drugs. Such screens can identify drug combinations that are far more powerful than the sum of the two single agents. We aim to understand the molecular rationale for the observed synergy between two cancer drugs. Once we have insight into the molecular mechanism, we aim to bring such rationally-designed combinations to the cancer clinic as soon as possible through collaboration with clinicians in our comprehensive cancer center (See for instance NCT01719380).

A second and more recent line of research concerns the identification of actionable genome alterations in cancer through next generation sequencing. We have developed a kinome-centered DNA and RNA sequencing platform to specifically identify clinically-relevant alterations in kinase genes in human cancer. This effort is closely linked to our joint effort within the Dutch Center for Personalized Cancer Treatment (, of which Bernards is one of the founding members. 

Link to e-cancer interview June 2014


Berns, Katrien

Katrien Berns

Associate Staff scientist


I started as an undergraduate student in Rene Bernards lab in 1995 and have continued working in his group as a PhD student, postdoc and currently as a staff scientist. My main focus has been to develop and perform functional genetic screens to gain more insight into mechanisms of action of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.

Furthermore, I use functional genomic approaches to identify mechanisms of primary and acquired drug resistance.  The ultimate goal of all these studies is to translate novel findings into more optimal anti-cancer treatment strategies. I find it very motivating to contribute to this important goal.


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Astrid Bosma



For the last 18 years I've been working as a technician at the NKI. The first 13 years with Laura van 't Veer on the subject of CTC (Circulating Tumor Cells).

At this moment I'm working in the group of Rene Bernards; by kinome capture we try to discover new signaling pathways who contribute to cancer. In addition we do RNA sequencing.




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Begona Diosdado

Pathologist, PhD


I am a pathologist interested in molecular biology of cancer and bringing basic science findings into clinical applications.

At present I am a Dutch Cancer Society Fellow interested in understanding the molecular pathogenesis of the described colorectal cancer molecular subtypes and the translation of these findings into targeted therapies. To translate the colorectal cancer genetic pathway additions into novel combination targeted therapies I will be making use of functional genetic screens and colorectal cancer 3D organoid models.

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Conti de, Giulia

Giulia De Conti

Postdoctoral Fellow


I studied Biology applied to biomedical research at the University of Milan (Italy) and I obtained my PhD at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, under the supervision of Prof. Pier Giuseppe Pelicci. During my PhD, I studied genes required for AML growth by using different mouse models and in vivo genetic screens.

I joined the group of Prof. René Bernards in June 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow. Here, I will work on the identification of novel cancer vulnerabilities and senescence induction strategies in different cancer types.  

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Annemieke Gennissen








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Marielle Hijmans



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Jin, Haojie

Haojie Jin

Postdoctoral Fellow


I obtained my PhD degree at Medical College of Shanghai JiaoTong University in China under the supervision of Dr. Wenxin Qin. After then, I worked in Shanghai Cancer Institute as a research assistant, investigating the metastasis of liver cancer.

I joined the group of Dr.Rene Bernards at the NKI in December 2017 as a postdoctoral fellow. My work will mainly focus on improving the efficiencies of targeted therapy and immunotherapy in liver cancer.

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Fleur Jochems

PhD student


In 2017, I obtained my master's degree in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. As a research intern, I worked in the group of Hein te Riele in 2015. After this internship, I joined the group of René Bernards for another internship project, which has become my PhD project for the coming years.

The project is focused on a new anti-cancer treatment strategy. This is based on a one-two punch approach: a new vulnerability is induced by a first drug, which sensitizes cancer cells for a second drug.

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Rodrigo Leite de Oliveira

Postdoctoral Fellow


I am a Portuguese pharmacist with a PhD in Biomedicine by the University of Leuven (Belgium). During my doctoral studies, I gained expertize in the field of oxygen sensors with particular focus on tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. 

As a postdoctoral fellow at the NKI, I am investigating strategies to improve the efficiency of antiangiogenic therapies in breast cancer.




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Mainardi, Sara

Sara Mainardi

Postdoctoral Fellow


I studied Biotechnology at the University of Rome La Sapienza (Italy)
and I carried out my PhD studies at The Spanish National Cancer Institute
(CNIO) in Madrid (Spain) under the supervision of Dr. Mariano Barbacid. There I
studied the cell of origin of non small cell lung cancer using genetically
engineered mouse models.

I joined the group of Dr. Rene Bernards at the NKI in
December 2013 as a postdoctoral fellow to cultivate my interests in
translational research. My work will be mainly focused on the use of 3D
organoid cultures for the discovery of genetic dependencies in colorectal

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Mulero Sanchez, Antonio

Antonio Mulero Sanchez

PhD student


In September 2016 I obtained my MSc degree in Translational Biomedicine at the university of Barcelona (Spain), during the master thesis I moved to Amsterdam to do the internship in the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI).

Currently, I am continuing the project I started during my master's in the group of professor René Benards as a PhD student. The project I am developing aims to find new treatments for different K-Ras mutant cancers.  K-ras is commonly mutated in different cancers as colon, lung and pancreas. In order to find out a new and better treatment, we are seeking for new drug combinations in order to sensitize tumor cells that are resistant to approved therapies like MEK inhibitors.​​

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Neto, Joao

Joao Neto

PhD student


I studied Biochemistry at University of Aveiro, in Portugal, and obtained a Master's degree in Biotechnology in July 2015.

I joined the lab of Prof. Rene Bernards in September 2015 as a PhD student.  Here, I am studying population dynamics by following single-cells fate using barcoding technology. With this approach we aim to aim modulate the response of cell populations to anti-cancer drugs, so as to develop better therapeutic approaches.


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Pogacar, Ziva

Pogačar, Živa

Ph.D. student


I obtained my Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. I continued with the Master's program Molecular and functional biology and graduated in September 2015 from University of Ljubljana.


I joined the group of prof. Bernards in October 2015, to work on resistance mechanism to EGFR inhibitors in colon cancer. By performing genome-wide screens using CRISPR technology we aim to identify novel resistance mechanisms that could lead to new combination treatment.


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Dos Santos Dias, Matheus

Matheus dos Santos Dias

Postdoctoral Fellow


Information will follow soon

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Schepers, Arnout

Arnout Schepers

Potsdoctoral Fellow


I'm a postdoctoral scientist sponsored by a research fellowship from the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF). I'm interested in how tissues grow and maintain themselves, and how this is affected during disease, for example in cancer.

I did my PhD in the lab of Hans Clevers at the Hubrecht Institute, where my projects were primarily focused on the characterization of intestinal stem cells.

For the first part of my postdoctoral training, I worked on liver tissue engineering, microfluidics and enhancing the functionality of engineered tissue in the lab of Sangeeta Bhatia at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

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Sustic, Tonci

Tonći Šuštić

Ph.D. Student


I graduated from the Molecular Biology program at the University of Zagreb, having completed diploma thesis research on the role of HoxB13 in genetically defined ovarian cancer cell lines.

I next obtained a Master's degree in Medical Science (Oncology) from the University of Cambridge analysing metabolomic changes in oncogene-induced senescence. I spent the following year working as a Research Assistant at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research where I gained experience in derivation of haematopoietic progenitor cells and learned the basics of multicolor flow cytometry.

I joined the Bernards lab in September 2013 to focus on targeted therapies for lung cancer.

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Liqin Wang

Postdoctoral Fellow


For many cancer cases, mono-targeted drug therapy can work in the short term, but cancer often develops resistance mechanisms to escape the therapy and continue growing.

My research projects focus on identifying and studying the possible drug-resistance mechanisms that developed during mono-targeted cancer therapies. The outcome of the research can be used to develop better therapeutic approaches with alternative drug or drug combination that blocks the drug-resistance pathways and restore sensitivity to the original drug, in order to overcome drug resistance.

I hope that the knowledge that gained from my research projects can be translated from bench to clinic and benefits the cancer patients.

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Cun Wang

Postdoctoral Fellow


I got my PhD in Biochemistry at Fudan University in China, after that I spent three years as a research assistant in the group of Dr. Wenxin Qin at Shanghai Cancer Institute working on liver cancer metastasis.


I joined the group of Dr. Bernards as a post-doc in January 2016. My work will be mainly focused on the mechanisms of cellular senescence by performing large-scale and high-throughput genomics technologies.


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Research updates View All Updates

  • Award Acadamy Hoogleraren KNAW 2013

    The Academy confers two separate Academy Professor Prizes a year, one to a researcher in the social sciences or humanities, and the other to a researcher in the natural, technical or life sciences. The Prize is intended as a lifetime achievement award for researchers who are between 54 and 59 years of age and regarded as world-class in their field.

    René Bernards is a molecular oncologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute (Amsterdam) and a part-time professor of molecular carcinogenesis at Utrecht University. Wil Roebroeks is a professor of archaeology at Leiden University. Both researchers will receive the sum of EUR 1 million, which they can use at their discretion to fund scholarly or scientific research.

    The Ministry of Economic Affairs makes a contribution towards the prize. The two recipients were selected by an international jury appointed by the Royal Academy. The Prizes is awarded on Thursday 27 June at the Academy's Trippenhuis Building in Amsterdam.

    Award Academy Professor 2013 KNAW
  • KWF Prize - Queen Wilhelmina Research Prize 2012

    Rene Bernards was awarded the Queen Wilhelmina Research Prize of EUR 2 million from the Dutch Cancer Society (January 29, 2013)

    KWF - Queen Wilhelmina Research Prize 2012

Key publications View All Publications

  • A gene-expression signature as a predictor of survival in breast cancer

    New England J. Med. 2002; 347: 1999-2009

    Van de Vijver, M.J., He, Y.D., van 't Veer, L.J., Dai, H., A M Hart, A.A.M., Voskuil, D., Schreiber, G.J., Peterse, J.L., Roberts, C., Marton, M.J., Parrish, M., Atsma, D., Witteveen, A., Glas, A., Delahaye, L., van der Velde, T., Bartelink, H., Rodenhuis, S., Rutgers,E. Th., Friend, S.H. and Bernards, R.

    Link to PubMed
  • Unresponsiveness of colon cancer to BRAF(V600E) inhibition through feedback activation of EGFR

    Nature. 2012; 483: 100-3

    Prahallad A, Sun C, Huang S, Di Nicolantonio F, Salazar R, Zecchin D, Beijersbergen RL, Bardelli A, Bernards R.

    Link to PubMed

Recent publications View All Publications

  • When a conflict of interest is not a conflict

    Nature. 2019 Apr;568(7753):458


    link to PubMed
  • With great power comes great vulnerability

    Mol Cell Oncol. 2018 Oct 9;5(6):e1509488

    Leite de Oliveira R, Wang L, Bernards R

    link to PubMed


  • Office manager

    Patty Lagerweij

  • E-mail

  • Telephone Number

    +31 20 512 6973

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