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Lieve Tytgat appointed professor of Biomarkers

Lieve Tytgat, pediatric oncologist and research group leader at the Princess Máxima Center, has been appointed professor of Biomarkers in pediatric solid tumors at the Faculty of Medicine of Utrecht University as of January 1, 2024. Prof. dr. Tytgat focuses on so-called liquid biopsies for childhood cancer. ‘We want to use blood or urine tests to monitor the disease course of children with solid tumors such as neuroblastoma, rhabdomyosarcoma or a kidney tumor, in order to adjust the child's treatment where necessary and possible.’

Children with cancer often need to go for a scan during their treatment. For example, to monitor how the tumor responds to treatment. Or to determine if the child could be eligible for a new, targeted therapy. But such scans are not always accurate enough: a tumor smaller than a Lego block can be missed, while it could indicate that the cancer has started to grow again.

Searching for biomarkers

‘It’s clear that we need better ways to detect the presence of cancer cells,’ says Prof. Tytgat. ‘For this we can use the traces that a tumor releases in the body. We know that individual cancer cells and pieces of tumor DNA or RNA end up in the blood or urine. In my research and within my professorship, I aim to find out which of these traces are unique for different types of childhood cancer. We can then use this to develop a blood or urine test. By doing this, we can more closely keep track of the cancer and adjust the child's treatment where necessary and possible.’

Blood or urine tests – known as liquid biopsies – are one of the total set of so-called 'biomarkers'. Tytgat: ‘As a doctor in the consultation room, I always get a complete picture of a child. I know that test results can contradict each other, or are sometimes ambiguous. That is why in my research I also look at other clues about the course of the disease, for example so-called MIBG scans. How can we learn more and more about the child’s disease from all these different measurements? And how can we speed up the translation of innovations from research into the clinic?’

One foot in both worlds

Tytgat leads a research group, as well as working as a pediatric oncologist specialized in solid tumors such as neuroblastoma. That combination is very important, she believes. ‘As more and more is technically possible, there is a risk that the gap between healthcare and fundamental research will widen. It is important to have clinical researchers who, like me, have one foot in both worlds every day. For example, if you want to apply the latest insights into genetic changes in childhood cancer, you must also be able to link that knowledge to differences in scans and other measurements in the clinic. Especially when it concerns a small group of children for whom the treatment isn’t working, or is working particularly well. By unraveling such differences, we can learn a lot to arrive at better treatments.’

In the pursuit of better treatment, it is not only collaboration between care and research that is important. ‘I have a lot of collaborations at a scientific level within an international framework,’ says Tytgat. ‘This is especially important for rare diseases - which applies to all forms of childhood cancer. Within my professorship I will be able to study larger groups of children more quickly through international collaboration. I hope to bring promising biomarkers into clinical practice more quickly so that the children can ultimately benefit from this.’


The professorship also means a lot to Tytgat on a societal level. ‘It is a real milestone for me personally, I am very proud of this appointment. As a research group leader, I supervise a large number of young researchers in their PhDs. So I am very happy that as a professor I can now complete that journey with them up to their thesis defense. In addition, I believe it is important - also for all young men and women who are currently working as PhD students or postdoctoral researchers - to contribute to the number of female professors.’