Thijn Brummelkamp

Laureate Biomedical Sciences 2015

Thijn Brummelkamp

Thijn Brummelkamp (1975) studied biology at the VU and received his PhD in Utrecht. After several years at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA), he moved to the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI-AVL) in Amsterdam where he is head of a research group in biomedical genetics.
In addition to his Ammodo KNAW Award he has also received a NWO Vidi grant, an ERC Starting Grant and the EMBO Gold Medal.


Research focus

Thijn Brummelkamp researches how genes and other molecular components of human cells are involved in human diseases such as cancer and infectious diseases.

The role of genes in diseased human cells

Before Brummelkamp started his research other scientists had discovered how to disable each gene individually in simple yeast cells. By examining how processes change in cells they were able to determine, step by step, the functions of all yeast genes. But no one had managed this for mammalian cells, including human cells. The work of Thijn Brummelkamp changed all that. Whilst at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, he developed an inexpensive technique to turn-off a single gene in a mammalian cell.

For the first time ever the function of human genes in cells could be studied in the laboratory. Brummelkamp used the technique to investigate how cancer cells become resistant to anti-cancer drugs, and how healthy cells can transform into cancer cells. Whilst at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, USA Brummelkamp expanded his new method allowing several human genes in a single cell to be turned off simultaneously. This revolutionary technique subsequently enabled all sorts of new questions to be answered.

What proteins, for example, does the Ebola virus need in order to invade cells of the human body? What about other viruses, bacteria and biological toxins? How few active genes does a mammalian cell need to function?

Nevertheless, there are still a lot of questions unanswered. Brummelkamp: “Fast growing cancer tissue needs to create a lot of molecules in a short space of time, such as proteins, DNA molecules and fatty acids. These elemants must also be present in the correct proportions. Amongst other things, rapidly dividing cells need a lot of fatty acids, so much so that some cancer cells transform themselves in order to produce these rather than extracting them from the surrounding area. This would normally only be done by specialised cells. Using my Ammodo KNAW Award we want to research how these types of processes are regulated and also their interdependency.”