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Sebastiaan van Heesch appointed junior Oncode Investigator

Ten new junior group leaders and their research groups will start January 1, 2024 at Oncode Institute, an institute for fundamental cancer research. From the Princess Máxima Center, Dr. Sebastiaan van Heesch , a group leader at the Máxima since 2020, has been appointed junior Oncode investigator. He joins four other Máxima group leaders already affiliated with the institute.

The new Oncode researchers were selected out of 72 applicants, based on the quality of their science and their expertise. Their potential to contribute to the mission of Oncode Institute was another important factor in the selection process. Oncode Institute aims to accelerate breakthrough discoveries and speed up their translation into new diagnostics and treatments for cancer patients.

Small proteins

Sebastiaan van Heesch's research focuses on very small proteins. He studies the biology of these micro-proteins, but also has a keen eye for translations into immunotherapy. Van Heesch aims to study changes in the expression of micro-proteins during the development of cancer. One way he does this is by looking at the steps in the production of proteins: from DNA to RNA to protein. Together with his group, he also wants to look at ways to use this yet undiscovered set of proteins for treatments for children with cancer.

Van Heesch says, ‘We are bringing knowledge and expertise in previously undiscovered mini-proteins and RNA translation to the Oncode network. By making these proteins visible in cancers for the first time, we are tapping into a source for new insights into the development of cancer and possible targets for immunotherapies. We will particularly focus on cellular therapies and cancer vaccines.


With the new appointments, Oncode Institute grows to 62 research groups spread across 13 universities and research institutes throughout the Netherlands. From the Máxima, the Van Boxtel, Drost, Hoeijmakers, and Rios groups were already affiliated with Oncode. Oncode researchers receive funding to conduct ‘high-risk & high gain’ research. This allows them to freely explore new ideas that could potentially lead to major advances. Oncode also helps scientists to take discoveries further, for example by linking them to companies.

‘Fantastic recognition’

Van Heesch is looking forward to being part of this strong network of fundamental cancer scientists. He says: ‘This is fantastic recognition for the work of my entire group, of which I am enormously proud. Over the past three years we have worked very hard, and have grown tremendously. As a result, there are several interesting lines of research and activities underway that fit well with the mission of Oncode Institute.

‘We will strongly benefit from the network, knowledge, experience, and facilities offered by Oncode Institute. The extra funding and support in the area of valorization gives us the freedom to further develop innovative ideas. And to see how we can translate these into possible new therapies for children with cancer. Together with my still young research group, I am very much looking forward to being part of Oncode Institute for the coming years!’