Five Erasmus MC fellows announced at Lof der Geneeskunst

Four researchers and one lecturer were awarded fellowships at Lof der Geneeskunst. Dean and Executive Board chairman Stefan Sleijfer: ‘We award these fellowships because we will always stay curious and want to discover new things.’

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From left to right: Julia Neitzel, Denise Hilling, Henk Schipper and Gennady Roshchupkin

This year’s research fellows are Denise Hilling, Julia Neitzel, Gennady Roshchupkin and Henk Schipper. Lecturer Ed van Beeck receives the fellowship for education.

Denise Hilling: predicting metastases

One in three patients with rectal cancer develops metastases after surgery. Patients at high risk of metastases could benefit from additional chemotherapy. Unfortunately, we cannot accurately predict which patients will develop metastases and, therefore, which patients would benefit from such additional treatment.

Denise Hilling is awarded a fellowship to develop a new decision model. Hilling: ‘Using artificial intelligence, I want to be able to predict the risk of metastases for each patient. What patterns can the computer recognise in patients’ data that we as doctors cannot see with the naked eye?’

Julia Neitzel: Preventing dementia

Exercising enough, eating healthy and maintaining social contacts; a good lifestyle reduces the risk of dementia. ‘Unfortunately, we do not yet know enough about dementia to be able to prevent it,’ says fellow Julia Neitzel. ‘What is probably most effective is to take a personalised approach that considers a person’s genes, environment and behaviour. In my research, I would like to gather the basic knowledge needed for such a personalised approach.’

Neitzel is particularly interested in the early effects of modifiable or treatable factors on brain health. To investigate this, she uses data on lifestyle, hereditary factors and brain scans collected from more than 70,000 people over the past 15 years.

Lof der Geneeskunst

Every year, the Erasmus MC fellows are announced at Lof der Geneeskunst. The fellowships allow four scientists to continue their research for the next four years, with support from their department and Erasmus MC. For the second time now, a fellowship was also awarded for education.

Gennady Roshchupkin: ChatGPT for DNA analysis

Fellow Gennady Roshchupkin uses artificial intelligence (AI) to determine how our genes affect our health. Specific forms of breast cancer arise from a single gene mutation, but for so-called complex polygenetic diseases such as dementia and osteoarthritis, there is no straightforward clue in our genes. AI can help us see patterns in our DNA that contribute to the onset of these kinds of diseases.

Roshchupkin: ‘In the next four years, I want to refine AI tools to study our genes better. I think we can use AI to revolutionise the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of genetic diseases. Who knows, in four years, we might have some kind of ChatGPT for our DNA analysis.’

Henk Schipper: inflammation in a donor’s heart

Heart transplants save lives. But adults usually can only use their donor’s heart for about 15 years, and children 15 to 20 years. The limited survival with a donor’s heart is often due to an inflammatory reaction called cardiac allograft vasculopathy. This inflammatory reaction causes the vessel wall of the coronary arteries to thicken, eventually causing oxygen deprivation of the donor’s heart.

Paediatric cardiologist Henk Schipper focuses his fellowship on unravelling this inflammatory process. Just as human muscles can be trained in the gym, specific immune cells can be trained to drive this inflammatory response. Schipper is investigating whether this ‘training-in-inflammation’ occurs in children and adults with donor hearts to suppress this inflammation better. ‘We (ed: the paediatric and adult transplant team) would like to give children and adults more years with their donor hearts’.

Ed van Beeck: fellowship for education

Climate change will have a major impact on our health and health inequalities in the Netherlands. For this reason, the realisation that we need to mitigate climate change is also present among many medics. Ed van Beeck is awarded a teaching fellowship for Planetary Health.

With activating forms of education around the theme of Planetary Health, van Beeck hopes to provide the doctors and other healthcare providers of the future with the right knowledge and skills during their training to promote health, reduce health inequalities, combat climate change and make the healthcare sector sustainable.

Due to the intensely painful loss of his colleague Jurgen Damen, van Beeck did not accept his fellowship at Lof der Geneeskunst. He prefers to dedicate the fellowship to his esteemed colleague and seeks an appropriate interpretation.

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