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Molecular Genetics

Divisions

Groups within research area Molecular Genetics

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Maarten van Lohuizen

Division
Molecular Genetics
Specialisation
Cell Fate and Cancer

Introduction

Maarten van Lohuizen gained his PhD at the NKI in 1992 studying oncogenes with Anton Berns. After a postdoc at the University of California, San Francisco, he returned to the NKI in 1995 and heads the Division of Molecular Genetics. He works on the master switches that control cell and tissue development, and how these go wrong in cancer. His group is working on one set of these switches, known as the Polycomb group proteins, which control cell fate and identity both during embryonic development and throughout adult life. These proteins are known to be involved in tumor formation, and the group has been working out how, which could lead to the development of more effective combinations of drugs for treating cancer.

More about the Maarten van Lohuizen group

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Anton Berns

Division
Molecular Genetics
Specialisation
Mouse Models for Cancer

Introduction

Anton Berns served as director of the NKI from 1999-2011 whilst retaining a research group, and now continues as a full-time group leader. His aim is to quicken the pace of basic cancer research in order to get the associated benefits to patients sooner. His group uses mouse models, particularly for lung cancer and mesothelioma, which are two of the deadliest cancers, to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms of cancer progression with the hope of developing methods to cure it. Looking ahead, he hopes that once they can cure a cancer in mice, a similar intervention can be applied in humans.

More about the Anton Berns group

John Hilkens

Division
Molecular Genetics
Specialisation
Breast Cancer Genes

Introduction

The main research focus of John Hilkens is the identification of genes that, when mutated or overexpressed, lead to breast cancer. To do this, he uses a powerful technique called insertional mutagenesis in mouse models for human breast cancer. Although whole genome sequencing and other technologies have identified a large number of genes involved in oncogenesis, insertional mutagenesis is a most efficient tool to uncover cancer genes since genes tagged at a statistical significant frequency in independent tumors are causally involved in tumorigenesis. Once a cancer-causing gene is found, he works on uncovering its function in the cell, particularly the molecular pathways it controls, which can become deregulated in cancer. This may lead to the discovery of novel drug targets and treatment options, leading to more personalized cancer therapy for individual patients with breast cancer, and potentially with other types of cancers.

In addition, John Hilkens has a long-standing interest in MUC1, a membrane bound sialomucin. He has shown that this class of mucins which are often highly overexpressed on cancer cells can, among others, strongly affect the adhesive properties of the cell. Moreover, he has shown that the MUC1 protein is circulating in the serum of breast cancer patients and can be used as a measure for tumor load in patients. Using this knowledge, he developed a serum assay, which led to the CA15-3 assay which is now widely used in the clinic.

More about the John Hilkens group

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