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24Jun 2020

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Wilbert Zwart and Andre Bergman about their collaboration

Collaborations between lab and clinic are of vital importance for cancer research that can rapidly benefit patients. More and more cooperations between lab researchers and physicians are starting to form at the NKI. Wilbert Zwart and André Bergman are one of these duos.

André Bergman: "It's crazy, really, the way we're working. The other day, I messaged Wilbert at three in the morning under the assumption that he would get back to me in the morning. But he replied immediately." Wilbert Zwart adds: "We e-mail and message 24/7, trying to encourage one another. We
don't see our collaboration as a nine to five job at the office: it's a way of life."

Wilbert Zwart and André Bergman

clinical internship
Zwart first ran into Bergman eight years ago as he was visiting his clinic. He was one of the recently appointed group leaders who had applied for an internship at the NKI clinics. He was given a tour through the radiation therapy and surgery departments, and all outpatient clinics. Zwart: "If you're studying possible improvements in cancer treatments, you need to know what goes on at the clinics."

Prostate cancer
About 80% of their match is due to personal reasons, they admit. Bergman: "You need someone who can give you strength, who is a good fit. Wilbert focus was exclusively on estrogen, the female sex hormone that causes breast cancer to spread. As an oncologist, I work with prostate cancer, which is determined by the male sex hormone, testosterone. During our first conversation we wondered how we could tie fundamental, molecular research into this connection between testosterone and prostate cancer, to patient research. A month later I called Wilbert to ask him if we could set up a project together. We immediately wrote a proposal."

H-building and hospital
Nowadays, the two 'buddies' often work in the same room: Zwart's main office. Bergman spends two days a week at the H-building and three days at the hospital. "We often discuss our work in the evenings. André loves Korean food, and I've grown to like it too. When we go out to eat, we gain pages full of ideas about new potential collaborations, projects, and clinical studies. We have more ideas than time," Zwart admits.

Nine genes
The collaboration between lab and clinic has taken prostate cancer research to new levels. Bergman: "We feel an urgency to make fast progress in cancer research. Personal collaborations are essential for this kind of progress, as they lead to better research and quicker applications." Zwart: "Doctors and researchers have been distinguishing between many different types of breast cancer for decennia, but no one ever described the different types of prostate cancer. We are now able to predict whether a particular tumour will return by looking at nine specific genes in our patients' DNA. We also know which patients will benefit from additional treatment. This knowledge is still highly scientific, but we focus on ways of implementing these tests in the clinic in our research."

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