PhD student Lisette Rozeman has won the 2019 Antoni van
Leeuwenhoek Award for her excellent research into immunotherapy for
melanoma patients. She examined how doctors could use immunotherapy
in even more effective ways to fight cancer in these
'Lisette Rozeman's research will profoundly change the treatment
of melanoma patients,' says her supervisor
Christian Blank, internist-oncologist and researcher at
the Netherlands Cancer Institute. In close cooperation with
colleagues inside and outside the organisation, Rozeman completed
no fewer than three clinical studies during her four-year research
period. 'Her work is unique. Lots of researchers develop a research
protocol but then fail to get the study launched.'
Agreeing on the logistics
So how did Rozeman manage to get her research study done? 'It's
a team effort,' says Lisette Rozeman
modestly. 'There's a lot more involved in a clinical research study
than you'd think. Besides a comprehensive study protocol there are
all kinds of things that have to be done before you can begin. For
instance, you have to build a database and you have to decide how
tissue samples are going to be processed and assessed. And you have
to agree on the logistics with all kinds of specialists: when will
patients be coming to the hospital? How many scans will be needed?
When will the patient be operated?'
Don't get irritated
That means getting everyone onto the same page, something
Rozeman is very good at. 'Almost everyone here is very busy. I
think I get things done quickly because I value the work that
everyone else does, and I let that show. And I'm very aware that
I'm just one more researcher calling with questions and wanting
everything to be arranged as quickly as possible for their own
study. But if you stay positive, if you're not deterred by
setbacks, and you don't get irritated - or don't show it, anyway -
then you can get a lot done.'
Rozeman not only got her clinical research done from the
organisational and scientific perspectives, but she also treated
the patients. 'I'm grateful that I was able to combine science and
patient care in my PhD - not just doing data analysis. After all,
research like this is done for actual patients.'
Three clinical studies
Those patients appear to have gained
real benefit from her work. Rozeman's research focused
on immunotherapy, an approach that aims to direct the patient's
immune system against cancer cells (see e.g.
this film). Three clinical studies on which she worked
showed that it could be feasible and beneficial to employ
immunotherapy even before a surgeon removes the tumour.
But why would you want to do so in the first place? There are at
least two good reasons. Firstly, the immune reaction can be invoked
more strongly when the whole tumour, with all its variations, is
still present in the body. Secondly, it is possible to clearly
detect, in the removed tumour, whether cancer cells have been
killed, and therefore whether the patient has reacted well to
immunotherapy. It might even be the case that patients who react
well to immunotherapy can keep their lymph glands: at present these
are always removed. A third, nearly completed study (PRADO) will
soon shed more light on this topic.
Back to the Netherlands Cancer Institute
Lisette Rozeman is currently training as an internist at UMC
Utrecht and hopes to graduate at the end of 2020. She wants to
specialise in oncology or haematology: 'I've been thinking about
coming back to the Netherlands Cancer Institute, where I've worked
with so much pleasure in recent years.' For the time being she is
devoting one day a week there to research.
The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Award
The Netherlands Cancer Institute awards the annual Antoni van
Leeuwenhoek Award to its most talented young researcher. The award
includes €6000, to be spent on new research. The Netherlands Cancer
Institute wants to express its gratitude to NKI alumnus Professor
Roel Nusse from Stanford University, for generously having offered
to co-fund the award from 2019 onwards.