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
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."
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.
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."