ISCOMS Research Fellowships

Are you a young, ambitious, (bio)medical student and would you like to experience what it is like to do research in the University Medical Center Groningen? The ISCOMS Research Fellowships (IRF) give students who present their research at ISCOMS the opportunity to experience doing research in the Netherlands and more specifically in the UMCG.

Various Research Institutes of the UMCG are interested in welcoming young and talented foreign (bio)medical students into their institutes. As a student you will get the chance to perform research at a leading institute, meet top-researchers, and learn more about the possibilities of doing a PhD-programme in the Netherlands. The IRF are only available for presenting participants of the congress.

When your abstract is chosen to be presented at our congress, you will receive information about the IRF application. It is important to know that we have a limited amount of thirty places for students to participate in these IRF-projects. Therefore, we have a special application procedure for the IRF-projects.

Besides a lot of (bio)medical projects, there are also a few Research Fellowships that focus more on the technical view of biomedical sciences. Students who study applied physics, biomedical engineering, chemistry or such, will also be able to apply for these very interesting Research Fellowships.

The fellowships take place directly after the congress, from the 12th of June until the 23th of June 2023. This makes it convenient for students to participate in the IRF. Besides this, no additional costs are charged. Accommodation and pocket money will be provided for the duration of the project free of charge.

The IRF are a challenging two week programme in which students are expected to actively participate in research at one of the UMCG Research Institutes and gather a great deal of knowledge related to the topic of research. As a student you get the chance to perform research at a leading institute, meet top-researchers and – more importantly – learn about the possibilities of doing a PhD-programme in the Netherlands. There are many foreign students who have been able to start a PhD-programme in the UMCG thanks to following a fellowship.

The application for the IRF of ISCOMS 2023 opens the 24th of February 2023!

Below you can find last year’s IRF projects.

IRF projects 2022

Supervisor: Lydia Visser PhD

Field of research: pathology

Description: We will look at different aspects of lymphoma research by looking at expression of proteins, drug sensitivity, combination therapy or effect on the micro environment. We can use techniques as immunohistochemistry, cell culture, flowcytometry, western blot, elisa and metabolic assays.

Supervisor: prof. Floris Foijer PhD

Field of research: Ageing Biology, ERIBA

Description: In each cell division, our complete genome is replicated and segregated equally over the two emerging daughter cells. Cancer cells have an intrinsic tendency to missegregate chromosomes occasionally, a process known as chromosomal instability or CIN. CIN results in cells with an abnormal chromosomal content, a state defined as aneuploid. Indeed, more than two out of three cancers are aneuploid, suggesting that CIN somehow contributes to the transition of normal cells into cancer cells.

Paradoxically, CIN and the resulting aneuploidy pose a growth disadvantage to non-cancer cells, suggesting that cancer cells have found ways to cope with the detrimental consequences of aneuploidy. In our lab, we try to map and understand how aneuploid cells transform into aneuploid cancer cells. We developed state of the art mouse models, in which we can provoke CIN in tissues of choice at time points of choice. Using these models, we have shown that whereas CIN is indeed detrimental for some stem cells, it is remarkably well tolerated by epidermal cells, although aneuploid mouse epidermis appears prematurely aged (Foijer et al, PNAS 2013). Furthermore, we found that CIN alone is not sufficient for cancer, but that predisposing mutations (such as p53 inactivation) are required for aneuploidy to contribute to malignancy (Foijer et al, PNAS 2014; Foijer et al, eLife 2017). The main aim of the lab is to develop new intervention strategies that can selectively kill aneuploid cells. For this, we need to better understand the biology of aneuploid cells and which (epi)genetic alterations are required to transform aneuploid cells into their malignant counterpart.

In this IRF project, you will be introduced into the exciting field of chromosome biology. This includes time-lapse microscopy, cytogenetics, mouse models, pre-clinical intervention, and state of the art technology such as single-cell sequencing (see Bakker et al, Genome Biology 2016) and RNA sequencing. While two weeks will not be sufficient to finish a full project, your IRF stay will reveal how we try to fulfil our mission to identify aneuploidy-killing compounds and we will involve you the experiments that are ongoing at that moment in time. More importantly, you will also learn whether the field of chromosomal instability is a field for you to pursue in your future research avenues. Looking forward to seeing you in June!

Supervisor: Jaap van den Born PhD

Field of research: nephrology

Description: In Nephrology Dept. various projects are running using diverse methodologies (see 1-6). You are invited to express your interests in one of these fields (being either clinical, epidemiological, human- or animal in vivo- or in vitro experimental) to indicate what sub-project interests you most. Please motivate your interest for the specific topic.

  1. Patients with renal disease and progressive renal function loss, are being studied with respect to the mechanisms via which the urinary protein leakage results in renal function loss. We aim to modulate proteinuria-driven complement activation on tubular cells.
  2. Our center also has a large population of renal transplant recipients. These patients are monitored very closely, and regimens aimed at increasing the duration of graft function as well as patient survival are being studied currently. A large database including biobanked urine and plasma is available in TransplantLines. Within the COMBAT consortium we focus on the role of the complement system in acute graft failure and chronic transplant dysfunction.
  3. General population cohorts are studied to detect which parameters lead to initiation of progressive renal function loss and its complications. The cohorts PREVEND and Lifelines from the general population are good examples. The natural course is followed to study possible causes of morbidity and mortality in relation to renal parameters.
  4. Lifestyle and the kidney. Many lifestyle factors are involved in the risk of long term renal function loss. These include smoking as well as nutritional habits, such as excess caloric intake leading to obesity and diabetes, excess sodium intake and sedentary lifestyle. The mechanisms of renal damage induced by these lifestyle factors are being studied in patients as well as experimental animals, and the effect of lifestyle intervention measures on the course of renal disease is being studied. Nutritional monitoring is part of this project.
  5. Various animal (rat) models of proteinuria and progressive renal disease are being studied, in order to unravel the mechanisms of renal damage and to optimize antiproteinuric and renoprotective treatments. Focus points are the RAAS – Vitamin D – FGF23 axis; progression of structural tubulo-interstitial changes; and the interplay of proteinuria and dyslipidemia.

6. Innate immunity and the kidney. Within this research line we try to unravel the role of innate immune system (complement system, leukocytes, chemokines) in chronic renal damage in proteinuric and transplanted kidneys. By intervention of novel heparin(oid) related drugs we aim to reduce the contribution of inflammation in chronic renal tissue remodelling. Research is largely done in vitro and in experimental models of renal disease.

Supervisor: Janette Burgess PhD

Field of research: pulmonary science

Description: Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is an aggressively life-threatening pulmonary fibrosis, characterized by progressive fibrosis with excessive deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM), high mortality and unclear cause.

Osteoprotegerin (OPG) is a secreted glycoprotein that is recognized as the decoy receptor of receptor activator of nuclear factor κB ligand (RANKL) and tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), playing a role in the regulation of bone matrix. Some studies have shown the association of OPG with fibrotic processes in liver, heart and its high expression in lung fibrosis in human IPF and in mice with bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis. Such data suggest that OPG might be a valuable biomarker and/or target for IPF therapy.

Fibulin-1 (Fbln1) is a secreted glycoprotein, an important protein involved in ECM remodeling that is associated with the progression of lung fibrosis. Our previous study illustrated that Fbln1 binds to latent Transforming Growth Factor-β1 binding protein (LTBP-1), leading to the activation of TGF-β1 which results in the differentiation of (myo)fibroblasts and production of ECM protein which contribute to lung fibrosis.

We now have preliminary data that suggest an association between OPG and fibulin-1 in IPF, both in human clinical samples and in mice with bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis.

In this study, based on above, we will explore the role of OPG and Fbln1 in regulating in lung fibrosis, investigating if there is a binding relationship between OPG, Fbln1 and LTBP-1; to further explore the pathogenic mechanisms underlying the development of lung fibrosis.

Supervisor: prof. Ton Lisman PhD

Field of research: surgery

Description: Since many components of the hemostatic system are synthesized in the liver, patients with liver failure frequently have profound alterations in their hemostatic system. Although routine tests of hemostasis suggest patients with liver failure to have a hemostasis-related bleeding tendency, increasing evidence suggest that these patients are in a hemostatic rebalance. We have studied the hemostatic status of patients with chronic liver failure and patients undergoing liver transplantation extensively, and are currently focussing on the hemostatic defects in patients with acute-on-chronic liver failure and acute liver failure. These patients often have systemic inflammation which may cause prothrombotic or prohemorrhagic alterations in hemostasis. In this project, we will focus on the effects of inflammation on properties of fibrinogen and fibrin, one of the main components of a thrombus or clot. We are interested in the effects of protein modification on polymerization and crosslinking of fibrinogen. In addition, we aim to investigate the quality, stability, and lysis of in vitro formed clots from plasma from acutely ill liver patients.

Supervisor: Sebo Withoff PhD

Field of research: genetics ERIBA

Description: The Immunogenetics group of the Department of Genetics within the UMCG investigates the role of genetic variation in health and the aetiology of autoimmune diseases (e.g. coeliac disease), the role of the gut microbiome therein, and is generating iPSC-based organ-on-chip models to investigate and validate ‘omics’ findings.

The data for these studies are mostly generated by next generation sequencing such as single-cell RNA-seq and ATAC-seq. The generation and analyses of the data requires a broad range of scientific expertise. In our group, a dynamic and highly interactive environment is created in which bioinformaticians, geneticists, statisticians, molecular biologists, stem cell biologists and immunologists work together closely.

Important findings published by the group are (a) the shared genetics of autoimmune diseases, (b) 95% of the autoimmune disease-associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) affect gene expression rather than gene function, (c) eQTL effects of GWAS SNPs on long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), and (d) a range of environmental factors affecting the human microbiome.

The current ongoing research is for a large part focused on the prioritisation of SNPs, genes, pathways and cell types affected in autoimmune diseases, on in vitro experiments to validate the function of the prioritised candidates and on determining how host genetics affects microbiome composition.

Depending on the background and interests of the student, we will design a working plan for the two-week internship.

Supervisor: Romana Schirhagl PhD

Field of research: Biomedical Engineering

Description: More and more couples are delaying parenthood. Increasing paternal age is a health issue since it leads to reduced fertility as well as different complications in pregnancy or in the offspring. Arturos project aims to find out links between genetic and environmental factors. More specifically he aims to find links between epigenetic factors and free radical generation. To this end he uses relaxometry, a technique which allows nanoscale MRI. We are one of very few places worldwide where this new technique is available and probably the only one within a hospital. This allows us to measure radical formation at the nanoscale.

Supervisor: prof. Ute Bultmann PhD

Field of research: social medicine

Description: A considerable number of adolescents (i.e. 10 to 25%) has to deal with the burden of mental health problems, and these problems often track into adulthood. Mental health problems comprise various emotional and behavioral problems (e.g., depressive symptoms, anxiety, aggressive and delinquent behavior). Adolescents’ mental health problems can have long lasting negative consequences, as they may have a negative effect on the transition from school to work. Adolescents suffering from mental health problems are at risk of dropping out from high school, and when entering adulthood, to be unemployed and earning lower wages.

Finishing a study and finding a job are major markers in young adulthood. Especially today, where starters at the labour market and young working adults have to earn a living in a new world of work (e.g. more temporary work, multiple jobs) with transformed labour markets (e.g. more self-employment and a 24/7 work cycle in a global economy). The school-to-work transition into a new world of work evidently challenges mental health. Therefore, the aim of the NWO Vici-project ‘Today’s youth is tomorrow’s workforce: generation Y at work’ is to examine the complex relationship between mental health and work from childhood to young adulthood, using a life course perspective.

Unique data of the TRAILS study (TRacking Adolescents’ Individuals Lives Survey) with 18 years of follow-up will be used to answer relevant research questions. TRAILS is a Dutch prospective cohort study, and follows 2300 children from the age of 10/11 years into young adulthood, currently 28/29 years. An overview of available data of the TRAILS study can be found at the website (www.trails.nl). The specific research question for the IRF students will be determined – in consultation with the students – at the start of the IRF project.

Supervisor: Christian Hulzebos PhD

Field of research: neonatologie

Description: Phototherapy is essential in the treatment of neonatal jaundice.  As such, measurement of irradiance is important. However, irradiance measurements are not frequently done. Recently we have developed a new measurement grid to be used at the neonatal intensive care unit. We have just started measurements at our own unit and we plan to perform irradiance measurements also in other hospitals. The assignment will consist of analyzing these measurements in order to provide feedback to the users on their phototherapy devices.

Supervisor: Henk Groen PhD

Field of research: Epidemiology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology

In a recent nationwide RCT we found that induction of labor in women with gestational hypertension (GH) or mild preeclampsia (PE) at term prevented complications without increasing the caesarean section rate (The HYPITAT study, Koopmans et al., 2009). However, it is questionable if induction of labour is the best treatment option in all patients with GH or mild PE at term. Hence; identification of patients at increased risk of developing severe maternal or neonatal morbidity is important.

In subsequent studies based on the HYPITAT data, we have assessed the prognostic capacity of clinical characteristics and laboratory findings with respect to several outcomes, such as progression to severe disease, the risk of C-section and neonatal outcome in women with GH or mild PE at term. This was done by developing prognostic models, which may aid clinicians in the counseling and treatment of individual patients. The models predict for each patient the probability of deterioration of disease or another outcome of interest.

In the proposed project you will learn how to develop a prediction model and how to evaluate its performance. SPSS will be used for the calculations, starting with basic descriptive comparisons to identify risk factors. The next step will be to use regression analysis to build the prediction model and to obtain data to evaluate discrimination (using area under the ROC curve) and calibration.

Supervisor: Henk Groen PhD

Field of research: Epidemiology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Undernutrition continues to be a public health problem in developing countries. For women, undernutrition not only directly affects their current health, but it can also lead to additional health problems when they get pregnant. Maternal undernutrition is related to pregnancy complications like anaemia and hypertension, and also to adverse birth outcomes such as low birth weight and preterm birth. Likewise, psychosocial distress in early pregnancy maybe linked with adverse pregnancy outcomes and child growth.

As part of the KITE cohort, we collected data from 991 women who became pregnant between February 2018 and September 2018 in the Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia. Nutritional status was measured before pregnancy, and in early and late pregnancy. Socioeconomic characteristics, reproductive and obstetric conditions, and psychosocial distress were recorded in early pregnancy. Pregnancy outcomes and child growth were also collected.

You will be able to investigate the role of psychosocial distress in early Opregnancy (stress, depression and anxiety) on pregnancy outcomes and/or child growth. You will use SPSS for the analyses. You will learn how to do univariable and multivariable regression analyses and interpret the results.

Supervisor: Sana Garmaeva MSc

Field of research: cell biology

Description: In the last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole world started realizing how the microbes and especially viruses surrounding us can affect our health, lifestyle and even mood. Even our body is not sterile, it harbors a complex ecosystem of microorganisms, including bacteria and prokaryotic and eukaryotic viruses. The majority of these microbial communities resides in the gut, forming the human gut microbiome. The human gut microbiome’s composition and diversity have been recently established using large population-based studies and associated with multiple human-health factors, lifestyle and diet. However, we still do not know the mechanisms behind the majority of microbiome associations. To study these mechanisms, one would need to culture every bacterial species from the human microbiota and perform many cloning and animal model experiments. Luckily, the use of the recent advances in genome assembly and annotation can prioritize the bacterial species for in vitro studies. During the internship, we will get familiar with the main bacterial genome assembly and annotation tools and try to study particular microbiome associations.

Supervisor: prof. Henri Leuvenink PhD

Field of research: surgery

Description: Organ transplantation is a life-saving therapy for patients suffering from end-stage organ failure. Due to the growing success of transplantation more patients are on the waiting list and more donors are needed. This leads to an increasing percentage of poor quality organs.

In the Surgery Research Lab researchers are trying to find new therapies to reduce or repair the injury by using machine perfusion techniques.

The IRF student will be involved in a project in which protective treatments during perfusion will be administered to ex vivo perfused porcine kidneys. The IRF student will work together with a PhD student and will get full insight into the principles of machine perfusion.

A laboratory introductory course will be part of the research stay. Depending on the progress and experience of the student a sub-project will be designed.

Supervisor: Peter van Ooijen PhD

Field of research: radiology

Description: Artificial Intelligence, and more specifically deep learning, can be used nowadays to train a computer to perform segmentation of anatomy and/or pathology. In this project the students will be part of the Machine Learning Lab of the Data Science Center in Health of the UMCG and will work on segmentation of imaging data and training models to perform that segmentation. We have a dedicated environment in place for this which does not require any programming.