“I’m a vet and specialist in veterinary pathology and came to the NKI as a laboratory animal pathologist. I wanted to conduct my own research as well to optimize my collaboration with the researchers. We investigated a common type of breast cancer in mice, a type in which a cancer cell detaches itself from a mammary gland and spreads through the body. Cells usually die when they let go of their neighbors, but we discovered that these cancer cells activate a certain type of ‘computer program’ which helps the cell to survive. The great part is that we can inhibit this program using drugs. I received help from bioinformaticians at the NKI, as well as others. It is amazing how you never conduct your research alone at this institute. People from various disciplines join together to help each other make progress. Now I can help researchers work carefully with the lab animals to see how they can translate these results to humans.
“To better understand cancer, we work with mice. This way of conducting research has been refined and improved significantly over the last few years. We used to use these mice as petri dishes, to put it bluntly: you injected some cancer cells under their skin and observed the effects. Nowadays you can recreate the most complex illnesses in the bodies of these little animals, which is much more realistic. That’s a great step forward, because there is no other way to study the complexity of cancer.”
Sjoerd will defend his thesis on April 15 at the Leiden University. His supervisor is Professor Jos Jonkers.