Epidemiologist Floor van Leeuwen of the Netherlands
Cancer Institute receives the 17th Rosalind E. Franklin Award for
Women in Science. The award is conferred by the American National
Cancer Institute in Maryland. Van Leeuwen receives the award for
her scientific work in general and her connecting role in
particular. The award will be presented to her at the annual
meeting - NCI Intramural Scientific Retreat - on March 13, 2019.
"It is an honour to receive this award."
Van Leeuwen has been working as an epidemiologist at the
Netherlands Cancer Institute since 1981 and is the section leader
of the Psychosocial Research and Epidemiology department (PSOE).
She studies the risk factors for breast cancer and ovarian cancer
and the late side effects of cancer treatment. In particular, her
research group looks at the risk of developing second tumours,
cardiovascular diseases and infertility after radiation and
chemotherapy for lymphomas, testicular cancer and breast
Van Leeuwen: "The chances of survival are improving more and
more. That is why it is even more important to check whether
radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or hormones also have
adverse effects on healthy organs and tissues in the long term.
Based on results from our research, the treatments are adjusted so
that we reduce the risk of late damage. We have also set up a
specialized aftercare program for the survivors of a lymphoma
throughout the Netherlands (the "BETER" clinics) where they are
informed about late side effects and are offered a screening
program to detect and treat possible damage in time.
Her strength to connect is one of the reasons the National
Cancer Institute is giving her this award. Van Leeuwen thinks that
her work in the field of Hodgkin lymphoma, for example, was an
important factor. "This is a rather rare form of cancer of the
lymphatic system. It is difficult to gather complete treatment and
follow-up data from a very large patient group. In the end, we
succeeded in getting 8400 patients together for studies. You also
need a lot of patience in epidemiology before you can identify the
long-term risks. We are now harvesting projects that we have been
working on for twenty years. It is therefore quite an art to raise
money for such long-term research. International collaboration is
crucial to continue the research and that is why van Leeuwen
invests heavily in it."
In addition to her work as a researcher, van Leeuwen is also a
professor at the VUmc. Here too, van Leeuwen has managed to bring
parties together. This time for Retinoblastoma. "This is a form of
childhood cancer, a malignant tumor in the retina of the eye. Much
rarer than Hodgkin. With the ophthalmologists of the VUmc (Prof.
Annette Moll), we have succeeded in bringing together all the data
collected worldwide. Important, because only through international
collaboration can we make the difference. Sometimes that is not
easy, but these are things that I get a lot of satisfaction from.
Making connections provides added value. I am committed to
Rosalind E. Franklin
The award that Floor van Leeuwen receives is named after
Rosalind E. Franklin, a British chemist who is known for her
contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA. She did this
with the aid of X-ray diffraction. Without her X-ray diffraction
photographs, it would have taken much longer for the structure of
DNA to be found. In 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the
Nobel Prize for this. It is possible that Rosalind Franklin would
also have shared that honour if she had been alive. However, the
prize is not awarded posthumously. In the opinion of many,
Franklin's scientific contribution has been significantly
underestimated in the last century.