On 23 November Marlies Ketelaar (an MSc student of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Groningen) is to receive the Pfizer Life Sciences Award 2011 for her research into an important immune substance in defence cells.
Her discovery may one day help to combat diseases such as rheumatism, where the immune system is out of order.
The EUR 5,000 prize is being awarded by Pfizer, one of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, and will be presented at the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities in Haarlem.
For her MSc thesis Marlies researched defence cells and discovered that a particular fat (the lipid sphingosine-1-phosphate) performs an active signalling function in the growth, movement and survival of these cells. It influences its own production in the cell and whether it is transported out of the cell. This self-regulating ability is very important for an effective defence system: in other words, if this fat does its job properly it protects us against certain diseases.
Drugs for rheumatism
The hypothesis, then, is that this lipid is not working properly in rheumatism. Marlies explains: ‘I did this research in the laboratory at cellular level. The next step is to find out how it operates in the human body under healthy and abnormal conditions – rheumatism, for example. If it transpires that this lipid is indeed out of order in rheumatic patients, drugs can be developed to restore its self-regulating ability. We also need to know whether we can effectively influence the immune system in this way for such things as organ transplantation.’
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