"How do cells manage to switch on the right genes at the right time, and exactly as long as they need?" Tineke Lenstra wonders. Genes that are switched on create messenger substances that ultimately determine the behavior and fate of cells. "The button that switches a gene on, as it were, switches off again after ten seconds, but the gene still remains active for ten more minutes. How does that work? Once we have a solid grasp on that, we can gain an understanding of where this goes wrong in cancer cells."
But Lenstra won’t find her answers unless she goes off the beaten track. "Most experiments analyze groups of cells and their average activities. But if you zoom in further, you quickly discover that every cell displays its own distinct behavior. That's why you have to study the individual cells." And that’s what she does, using advanced microscopes. Using techniques she developed herself, they allow her to look into the cells with great detail and follow the individual molecules over time. This grant will give her the opportunity to start investigating this process in human cells over the coming years.