Using computer algorithms, Joris investigated huge collections of DNA data from cancer patients over the past years. It could be rather discouraging at times, he shares. “DNA contains millions of letters, so it’s huge. And which ones are abnormal and important in tumor growth? The variations and combinations of these mutations are innumerable. Sometimes, of course, you’d find yourself thinking: ‘this is never going to work’.”
Luckily, he isn’t discouraged that easily. “I want to comprehend complex problems and can get completely lost in these things. With great pleasure.” And he persists until he succeeds, just like he does in his free time when he loves to go fly fishing. “I’m fascinated by nature and the way it works. I can spend ages at the riverbed, looking at what a trout is doing and why. You need to know which insects it eats in a day, so you can make sure that the exact right imitation fly is floating along with the current in order to catch the fish. It makes me feel so free to try and comprehend nature, at the river as well as in my cancer research.”
And when he sunk his teeth in a large database with DNA data from cancer patients, he certainly reeled in a big one. Joris showed that you need to map out the full tumor DNA only once to find all the errors that are relevant to a treatment. Because tumor DNA changes so rapidly, it wasn’t clear whether these tests would have to be repeated during treatment. His findings will hopefully make it possible for these WGS tests to be available for a larger group of patients.
Joris has also been working on a number of different topics ranging from fundamental to clinical research. “Every single one of my projects involves teamwork and shows the strength of the Netherlands Cancer Institute. We have an in-house expert available for just about every single wild idea to develop it further and make it a true success.”