Researcher biography

I am a molecular biologist / geneticist passioned about both neuro-oncology and neurodevelopment. My main interest is to understand how transcriptional and epigenetic factors that regulate proliferation and differentiation during normal brain development, are involved in pediatric brain tumours and congenital brain malformations. My main goal is discover the molecular neurodevelopmental basis of disease and to translate this knowledge to novel therapies, improved diagnosis or prognosis.

In November 2012 ,I completed my PhD at the Academic Medical Centre (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) under the supervision of Dr Marcel Kool, a world expert in genomic research in brain tumours. This research led to the discovery of the now established molecular subgroups in medulloblastoma and the identification of OTX2 as an oncogene. I discovered that OTX2 inhibits the differentiation of tumour cells and that knockdown of this gene can induce terminal differentiation of these cells. I further identified the pathways directly controlled by OTX2 and provided potential downstream targets suitable for therapy. My work has resulted in four first-author papers (Acta Neuropathol, Int J Cancer, Mol Cancer Res, PLoS One) as well as co-authorship on highly cited papers in PLoS One and Nature.

Within the Brain Development and Disorders laboratory headed by Prof. Linda Richards, I led a team, consisting of two PhD students, a research technician and undergraduate students. We investigated the function of the Nuclear factor one (NFI) family of transcription factors in normal brain development as well as in disease. NFI genes are important regulators of proliferation and differentiation of cortical progenitor cells and are disrupted in congenital brain malformations and brain tumours. To elucidate the fundamental molecular and cellular processing of NFI-driven differentiation in brain development, we generated novel genetic mouse models as well as primary brain tumour xenografts. By understanding the contribution of NFI disruption to human disease, we contribute to the improvement of diagnosis, prognosis and/or treatment. For instance, we identified NFIB haploinsufficiency as the cause of novel syndrome characterized by intellectual disability and macrocephaly.

With Prof. Richards and my team, I have published 14 papers, including in Nature Genetics, Cancer Letters, Nature Communications, American Journal of Human Genetics, Cell Reports, American Journal of Medical Genetics part C, Oncotarget and Development. These include 4 first-, 3 last and 2 second author papers. I established a number of key collaborations both locally and internationally to combine basic neuroscience, oncology and clinical genetics.

Per 15-01-2020, I am joining Prof. Marcel Kool to establish a new laboratory at Princess Maxima Center for Pediatric Oncology, Utrecht, the Netherlands. Our focus will be on understanding the neurodevelopmental origin of pediatric brain tumour and to generate novel models for research and translational medicine. I will also remain involved in the research program of Prof. Richads at the Brain Development and Disorders laboratory as an collaborator and associated supervisor.