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Accelerating research by coming together

Every day, over 450 researchers at the Princess Máxima Center work to improve the survival rate and quality of life of children with cancer. Every year, this group comes together during the Máxima Research Retreat. To learn on a scientific and personal level, gain inspiration and get to know each other better. This year's retreat was all about opening up.

Collaboration within the scientific community and specifically within pediatric oncology is crucial. Pediatric cancer is a rare disease and only by working together can scientific progress be made. Pediatric oncologist and researcher dr. Friederike Meyer-Wentrup opened the retreat: 'The theme 'Open up' is fundamentally about making connections, creating a network. By sharing your thoughts and ideas, you get further. You feel that you belong, have a purpose and can make a difference. We have a very high ambition, which is why we want to offer our researchers a good working environment and help them work at the top of their abilities.'

Inspiring and thought-provoking key notes

The theme 'Open up' was further explored during the retreat on a scientific, philosophical and personal level by three keynote speakers. Science philosopher Prof. Bas Haring used a number of examples of scientists and other people who were open-minded in their ideas. General practitioner Willem Kolff was featured. In the 1940s, he built the first artificial organ, a machine that could filter the blood of people with kidney failure. Kolff did not receive funding for his idea from the university, but handled it creatively by using parts from the garage and even from the butcher. Five inspiring stories revealed the lessons Haring wanted to give the researchers: take your own curiosity seriously, make sure you connect with others, but keep that in balance with the work you can do alone.

Prof. Dr. Edwin Cuppen, director and co-founder of the Hartwig Medical Foundation (HMF), talked about the importance of curiosity, enjoying science and following your heart. He also talked about HMF's research. 'By completely reading the DNA of a tumor, a lot of research data is created. We make this data, along with clinical data such as treatment received and its outcome, available to researchers worldwide. They can use this for research into, for example, the development of cancer and finding combinations between certain genes and effective treatments. In this way, we want to make a difference for both current and future cancer patients.'

That a career in science does not always follow a 'straight line' told Prof. Dr. Jolanda de Vries. After a top sports career and a lengthy doctoral research, she became a professor at Radboud UMC and received prestigious awards and research funding. 'There is a clear relationship between the immune system and cancer. I am investigating whether we can use vaccination to fuel the immune system and make it ready to attack cancer cells as soon as they arise. For this, we are targeting groups that we know have an increased risk of developing cancer, including children with CMMR-D syndrome.' Within this KiKa-funded research, De Vries is collaborating with researchers at the Máxima.

Collaboration and research in the Máxima

For the Synergy Talks, researchers were invited to talk about projects that came about thanks to (sometimes unexpected) cooperation between different disciplines at the Máxima. In the tumor donation program, pathology, psychology and basic research come together. Genetic counseling is also a subject with medical, research and psychological sides. The collaboration around B-ALL originated from an M4C consultation, a consultation in which different disciplines from the same disease area come together. By combining the expertise from the Nierkens and Van Leeuwen groups, the researchers are one step closer to understanding why CAR-T cell therapy does not work well in children with B-ALL. Piece by piece, the projects demonstrated the added value of integrating care and research into pediatric cancer at Máxima.

PhD talks

Four PhD students were invited to present their research. Babette Hoen, from the Den Boer group, talked about the cells surrounding cancer cells in the bone marrow. These affect the effect of the drug blinatumomab in a form of acute lymphatic leukemia. Mirjam van den Brink, from the Tissing group, studies the effect of chemotherapy on taste and smell in children with cancer. Konstantinos Vazaios from the Hulleman group is looking at the potential of viruses that can selectively attack cancer cells. Damon Hofman from the Van Heesch group gave the winning presentation. He talked about his research on the role of small, evolutionarily 'young' proteins in medulloblastoma, a childhood brain tumor. 

Getting Started

How do I become a star at presenting? Can 'visual thinking' help to express creativity? And how do I tell about my research to lay people, such as parents of children treated at Máxima or my own family? These were some of the topics of the workshops organized by specialists for the researchers with the aim of not only gaining substantive knowledge, but also developing skills and an open attitude around research.

Open up

Prof. dr. Leendert Looijenga, managing director research and research group leader: 'It was another outstanding edition of the Máxima Research Retreat. It is great to see the energy and will to learn and develop among our employees. With this retreat we have laid another brick to the foundation to achieve our mission.'