Children with cancer are often treated with chemotherapy at the Princess Máxima Center. In some cases, they also receive a stem cell transplant in addition. These forms of treatment have proven successful and on total average three out of four children are cured. However, an adverse consequence of these treatments is that not only are the cancer cells destroyed, but in some children healthy tissues are also damaged. This causes adverse late effects in these children later in life.
Van Boxtel says, ‘I am tremendously honored to have received the NYSCF Robertson Stem Cell Investigator award and grateful for this opportunity to accelerate my research.’ Van Boxtel's research focuses on unraveling the origins of late effects of treatment in children who had blood cancer and what role stem cells play in it. 'If we properly understand how these arise then that brings us a big step closer to finding a solution to prevent these effects. It also creates the possibility of predicting the likelihood of late effects prior to treatment and adjusting treatment accordingly.'
Follow-up on research leads
Research using cell cultures and mice provides insight into how stem cells can repair damaged tissues. Van Boxtel has also found possible leads for how this works in people by examining stem cells after chemotherapy in addition to transplanted stem cells. ‘Thanks to this award, we can continue this research. For example, we suspect, thanks to examining the blood system of chemotherapy-treated children, that some stem cells appear ‘stronger’ than other stem cells and are better able to generate new blood. It is therefore possible that ‘super stem cells’ exist. This would be an important discovery not only for the treatment of children with blood cancer, but also for many other diseases involving regenerative medicine using stem cells.
One and one is three
By winning the NYSCF Robertson Stem Cell Investigator Award, Van Boxtel joins a network of internationally prominent researchers in the field of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. ‘Knowledge exchange and collaboration is crucial to achieving breakthroughs. It gives you new ideas because together you look at your research and outcomes from different perspectives. It is also enormously inspiring to combine knowledge and strengths with colleagues. This prize is therefore really a great accelerator and example of how one and one becomes three.’