1 October 2021

Two Oncode researchers win the International Birnstiel Award

The International Birnstiel Award for Doctoral Studies in Molecular Life Sciences is awarded to accomplished and talented young scientists

Elize Brolsma

Elize Brolsma

Elize is part of Oncode’s communication team. She has over 10 years of experience in the com-munication industry, both for commercial and non-profit organisations. After obtaining her bache-lor and master degree in communication at Utrecht University, Elize worked as a communication professional at a research institute, PR agency, law firm and internet company. She has a strong focus on external communications and Public Relations. At Oncode - together with her colleagues - Elize produces the monthly newsletters for Oncode Investigators & Researchers and the Oncode digital magazine. She publishes content for the Oncode website and is responsible for all social media channels. She enjoys discussing science with researchers and support them in their outreach.

Oncode Institute is proud to announce that two Oncode researchers have won the 2021 International Birnstiel Award for Doctoral Studies in Molecular Life Sciences. Sanne Boersma (Hubrecht Institute, Marvin Tanenbaum Group) and Sanne van Neerven (Amsterdam University Medical Center, Louis Vermeulen Group) are among the six winners this year.

The competition for the Birnstiel Award 2021 was very strong: more than 100 institutions followed the call to nominate their best PhD student of the previous year. Nominations came from many leading research institutions, with an almost global spread - Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia.

Since its endowment in 2019, the International Birnstiel Award is an annual celebration of outstanding achievements by doctoral students in molecular life sciences. It is awarded by the Max Birnstiel Foundation and the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology. At a ceremony later this year, the awardees will receive a certificate, trophy, and prize of 2,000 Euro.

Sanne van Neerven says about the award: "I’m truly honored that my work is recognized by international researchers.” Sanne Boersma adds: "I am very honored that the Hubrecht Institute has nominated me and that I have been selected for the Birnstiel Awards. It is extra special that not one, but two of the six awardees are PhD students at an Oncode Institute; a wonderful acknowledgment of the high-quality science that is done within Oncode."

Geert Kops, Head of Oncode Institute, says: "What a great honour for Sanne van Neerven and Sanne Boersma to receive this award for their ground-breaking work. We are very proud to have talented young scientists like them in our Oncode community."

Information about their research:

Sanne Boersma, Hubrecht Institute
Supervisor: Marvin Tanenbaum
For her PhD, Sanne Boersma has worked in the field of live-cell single-molecule imaging applied to virology to investigate early RNA virus infections as well as their competition with the host cell. RNA viruses are widespread pathogens with a big impact on society.

An infection typically starts with a single virus entering a host cell, where it multiplies by producing viral proteins and replicating its genome. At the same time, the host cell attempts to inhibit the
virus and the outcome of an infection is therefore determined by a competition between the virus and the host. As traditional techniques lack sensitivity to study the early infection, Sanne Boersma developed live-cell single-molecule imaging assays to study the replication of RNA viruses. These new methods revealed substantial cell-to-cell differences at the onset of an infection, can identify bottlenecks for a successful infection, and can uncover how and when antiviral responses counteract an infection. Before joining the Hubrecht Institute in 2016, Sanne did her undergraduate and Masters studies at Utrecht University.

Sanne van Neerven, Amsterdam University Medical Center
Supervisor: Louis Vermeulen
During her PhD, Sanne van Neerven studied the competition between normal and Apc-mutantintestinal stem cells (ISCs) and how this drives the initiation of colorectal cancer. Sanne discovered a novel form of competition that had not yet been described in the mammalian intestine before: supercompetition. She revealed that mutant ISCs actively disadvantage their healthy neighbours and implemented a completely new approach of boosting the normal ISCs using lithium, rather than inhibiting mutant cells. Lithium treatment reduced the competitive advantage of Apc-mutant stem cells and significantly inhibited adenoma formation.

Sanne’s work has recently been published in Nature and her findings are currently being translated into a clinical trial to explore the chemopreventive potential of lithium for patients with germline mutations in the APC gene. Sanne did her undergraduate studies at the University of Amsterdam, followed by a Masters in oncology at the VUMC School of Medical Studies.

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