Researcher biography

I am an early career researcher and molecular biologist / geneticist working in both neurodevelopment and neuro-oncology. My main interest is to understand how transcription factors that regulate proliferation and differentiation during normal brain development, are involved in various congenital brain malformations and brain tumours. My main goal to translate this knowledge to novel therapies, improved diagnosis or prognosis for brain malformations, such as agenesis of the corpus callosum, as well as glioblastoma and other brain tumours.

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 am currently leading a research team, consisting of two PhD students, an undergraduate student, an MSc student and a research technician. We are investigating 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 investigate the function of NFI, we have generated novel genetic mouse models as well as primary brain tumour xenografts. We aim to elucidate the fundamental molecular and cellular processing of NFI-driven differentiation in brain development. Using this knowledge, we try to understand the contribution of NFI disruption to disease and whether we can apply it to improve diagnosis, prognosis or treatment.

With my team, I have published in Cell Reports, Nature Genetics, Oncotarget, Development, Scientific Reports, Stem Cell Reports, the Journal of Comparative Neurology, Cancer Letters, Developmental Biology and Brain and Neuroscience Advances.

We established a number of key collaborations both locally and internationally to investigate NFI function during development and in the context of brain malformations, and as a tumour suppressor in brain cancer. I have previously been awarded a sole CI grant from the Brain Foundation. Our cancer research is currently funded by the Scott Canner Young Researcher Grant from Tour de Cure and by a donation from Ride for Rhonda.