'The right combination of proteins can save lives'
Lisette van Os (21) just finished her first year of the Medical and Pharmaceutical Drug Innovation (MPDI) master programme with top marks. Now she is ready for the next step. 'I’m going to California to research the forces and interactions between cells and proteins in fibrosis.'
The master student emphasises that she’s somewhat off the beaten track, considering that within the six tracks MPDI offers, her research does not exactly fit any of them. ‘I chose somewhat of my own path within the master programme. While completing the bachelor Life science & technology I got intrigued by regenerative medicine, which deals with the self-healing of organs and cells. Ultimately, this led me to want to research the role that cells and the extracellular matrix play in the lung disease Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF.'
Cells and health
Lisette explains: ‘This disease of the respiratory system causes lung tissue to indurate, eventually filling up the lungs until breathing is impossible. Modern science doesn’t know what exactly causes IPF, only that the matrices surrounding the cells cause them to overproduce proteins, which form scar tissue. Ideally, we would discover a protein to influence the disease so that the cells stay healthy and supple.’
Pauline van Wachem-award
Her supervisor during the research projects is Principal Investigator Janette Burgess, who is specialised in lung disease and regenerative medicine. They already met during Lisette’s bachelor years, and met again in the first period of the master programme. She was the one that urged Lisette to send in an abstract of her research for the annual congress of the Dutch Matrix Biology Society. Not only was Lisette invited to speak to researchers and PhD-students from all over the world, she was also awarded best junior speaker.
‘I will continue the research, but expanded to fibroses in general,’ Lisette states. Her visa for the United States just came through. In November she starts working with Elliot Botvinick, professor in Biomedical Engineering at the university of California Irvine. ‘He has high tech microscopes that can measure the forces and interactions between cells and proteins.’
Choose your track
Does she have any advice for future MPDI students? ‘In the first semester the Principal Investigators introduce the tracks and their specific research interests within these tracks. Oncology, Medical neurosciences and neurological diseases, Infection and immunity, Medical nutrition and metabolic diseases, Medical system biology and bioinformatics and Drug innovation. Choose the track that sparks your interest and aspirations, or find a way to follow your interests outside of the beaten paths. Being “trackless” worked out great for me.’
'MPDI is in many ways science without borders'
Back home in Brazil, Wellington Candido studied Medicine. An exchange year led him to the Netherlands, where he spent most of his days in the laboratories of the University Medical Center Groningen. In 2016 he returned to participate in the top-master Medical and Pharmaceutical Drug Innovation (MPDI). 'I loved the days in the lab, it is fascinating what happens on a molecular level.'
The last couple of week were busy ones for the 28-year-old. ‘I have just started my second internship,’ Wellington says. ‘I am focussing my research on kidney transplantations and the way we can decrease the damage that occurs when the kidney is outside of the body. That can run up to hours, since donor organs can come from any one of the other European countries. As it is on its way to the receiving patient, the kidney starts to deteriorate. What is going on in that time in the cells?’
Science is team effort
This second-year research is one of the main components of the master’s programme. Ultimately, it will lead to the student writing a PhD-proposal. ‘The programme asks a lot of self-study and hours in the lab. Ultimately, you learn how to be a scientist. But,’ Wellington emphasizes, ‘you don’t make science alone. During classes, students are stimulated to be pro-active and to present their research methods, facts and figures to top-researchers and fellow students. Everyone thinks along, asks questions and offers a new perspective. Because when you only take your own opinions in mind, chances are that your research is to restricted.’
The focus of the study is molecular biology and the unravelling of the molecular mechanisms that determine health and illness. With the internships, students are free to follow their aspirations, even to perform the second research proposal abroad and further enhancing their international experience. For the first internship Wellington worked in the characterization of mutations in breast and ovarian cancer. Currently he is doing his second project in the Experimental Nephrology, about kidney transplantation. Wellington chose to stay in the Netherlands since he is planning to combine research with clinical work: ‘MPDI has definitely changed the way I see and make science, and I will carry this with me in whatever I do in my future.’
‘Make sure you are willing to put in the time and effort. In the online course descriptions you can read all the information on each class and track. It is also important to keep organized and look up what deadlines are coming. And if you have any questions, the professors and other students are always willing to help.’