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Molecular Pathology: Jacco van Rheenen

Van Rheenen, Jacco

Jacco van Rheenen, Ph.D professorGroupleader

About Jacco van Rheenen

The van Rheenen group studies the identity, behavior, and fate of cells that drive tumor initiation, progression, metastasis and the development of therapy resistance. These populations of cells are difficult to study since they are rare, and their behavior (e.g. migration) and traits (e.g. stemness) change over time. To be able to study these dangerous cells, we have developed microscopy techniques to visualize individual cells in real-time in living animals, referred to as intravital microscopy. For example, we developed small imaging windows that can be surgically implanted in mice giving visual access to tissues with cellular precision for several weeks. Using intravital imaging, the van Rheenen lab revealed multiple important factors within the single cell heterogeneity that are crucial in the processes of tissue homeostasis, tumor initiation and tumor progression.

Our research focuses on four areas are (1) The cellular mechanisms of tissue development and homeostasis, tumor initiation, and tumor progression; (2) The cellular mechanisms of migration and metastasis of cancer; (3) The role of microvesicles in tumor heterogeneity and tumor progression; (4) The molecular and cellular mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance and side effects.

High resolution intravital microscopy:

Our group develops and utilizes state-of-the-art imaging techniques to visualize the adaptive properties of the few dangerous cancer cells (e.g. stem and/or migratory cells) within the large population of non-metastasizing and differentiated cancer cells. We combine the latest genetic tumor models with intravital imaging (the visualization of single cells in living mice). For this, we have developed techniques to trace individual tumor cells within the primary tumor and at distant organs in a living mouse for several weeks at subcellular resolution.

 Final conclusions:

The unique intravital imaging techniques developed in our lab enabled us to gain detailed information on the cellular behavior at single-cell level during both tissue homeostasis and tumor initiation and progression. This unique way of studying these processes has led to major breakthroughs in the fundamental understanding of cancer.

More research details


Lohuis, Jeroen

Jeroen Lohuis

Ph.D. Student


I have obtained my master's degree in biomedical sciences at Utrecht university in 2017. I performed my first masters internship in the lab of Jacco van Rheenen, which I joined again as a PhD student after my masters.

For my PhD project I will use intravital imaging techniques to study tumour dynamics upon chemotherapy treatment. To get a better understanding of the recurrence of cancer upon therapy, I will study the hypothesis that tumor cell death has non-intended side-effects that stimulate surviving cells to migrate and regrow tumors.

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Morgner, Jessica

Jessica Morgner

Postdoctoral fellow


During my PhD in the group of Sara Wickstroem at the Max-Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne, Germany, I studied the role of key adhesion mediators in regulating cell fate downstream of
cell-matrix adhesions. In 2016 I joined Jacco Van Rheenens group at the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht and was awarded an EMBO fellowship. After moving with the group to the NKI, I continued investigating the dynamics of cell-matrix interactions in cancer progression and metastasis formation by using
intravital imaging techniques.

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Postrach, Daniel

Daniel Postrach

Ph.D. Student


Disseminating tumor cells show several phenotypes that can be epithelial, mesenchymal or partially both. My project focuses on EMT in breast cancer metastasis, not only trying to understand which cells seed at the secondary site but also how perturbations and priming of the target organ prior to seeding can influence the potential of disseminating cells to growth out as metastases.

I obtained my Master degree from Heidelberg University in the subject Molecular Biotechnology in 2017. At this time I was involved in the establishment of a novel DNA barcoding system -  called Polylox -  in the Rodewald lab at the DKFZ.

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Key publications View All Publications

  • Identity and dynamics of mammary stem cells during branching morphogenesis

    (2017) Nature. Feb 16;542(7641):313-317. doi: 10.1038/nature21046. Epub 2017 Jan 30.

    Scheele CL, Hannezo E, Muraro MJ, Zomer A, Langedijk NS, van Oudenaarden A, Simons BD, van Rheenen J.

    Link to PubMed
  • In Vivo imaging reveals extracellular vesicle-mediated phenocopying of metastatic behavior

    (2015) Cell. May 21;161(5):1046-1057. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2015.04.042.

    Zomer A, Maynard C, Verweij FJ, Kamermans A, Schäfer R, Beerling E, Schiffelers RM, de Wit E, Berenguer J, Ellenbroek SIJ, Wurdinger T, et al.

    Link to PubMed

Recent publications View All Publications

  • Cellular protection mechanisms that minimise accumulation of mutations in intestinal tissue

    (2017) Swiss Med Wkly. Nov 9;147:w14539. doi: 10.4414/smw.2017.14539. eCollection 2017 Nov 9

    van Rheenen J, Bruens L.

    Link to PubMed
  • A Unifying Theory of Branching Morphogenesis

    (2017) Cell. Sep 21;171(1):242-255.e27. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.08.026.

    Hannezo E, Scheele CLGJ, Moad M, Drogo N, Heer R, Sampogna RV, van Rheenen J, Simons BD

    Link to PubMed


  • Office manager

    Suzanne Romijn

  • E-mail

  • Telephone Number

    +31 20 512 9168

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