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22May 2018

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Epidemiologist Floor van Leeuwen receives oeuvre award

Van Leeuwen

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 cancer.

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 that."

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.

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