During my MSc training in Medical Biology at the University of Nijmegen, from which I graduated in 1996 (Cum Laude), I became fascinated by the complexity of the molecular mechanisms underlying cancer. I chose to perform my PhD studies at the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) with Dr. Maarten van Lohuizen to investigate the underlying basis for the oncogenic activity of the Polycomb-group gene BMI1. I identified the INK4a/ARF tumor suppressor locus as a critical target of transcriptional repression by BMI1, through which BMI1 controls cell proliferation, senescence, apoptosis and oncogenic transformation. I then developed genome-wide functional genetic screens in mammalian cells to obtain further insights in INK4A/ARF-controlled senescence, leading to the identification of TBX2 as a novel immortalizing oncogene that directly represses the p19ARF promoter and is amplified in human breast cancer.
For my PhD research I was awarded with a Cum Laude PhD degree from the University of Utrecht in 2000 and with the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Award 1999. Until the end of 2001 I continued working as a postdoc with Dr. Maarten van Lohuizen to obtain further insights cellular senescence, replicative life span and oncogene collaboration during malignant transformation.
I then obtained a personal KWF (Dutch Cancer Society) fellowship to join the lab of prof. dr. Titia de Lange at the Rockefeller University in New York from 2002-2004, for postdoctoral training on telomere dysfunction as cause of cellular senescence. Supported by the same KWF fellowship I returned to the NKI in July 2004 to continue working on telomere damage responses independently, which was subsequently supported by KWF project grants and a personal VIDI grant from NWO (Dutch Research Council) in 2005 and 2006. In 2008 I was appointed at the NKI as junior group leader (tenure-track).
In 2012 I became a tenured research group leader, was selected as EMBO Young Investigator by the European Molecular Biology Organization and awarded with an ERC Starting Grant. Since the establishment of my group, my research activity focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying the control of DNA damage responses and DNA repair activities at telomeres and DNA breaks, as they are critical in cancer development and cancer treatment.