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Past Winner
2013 NSERC Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize

Dr. Marinus T. J. van Loenhout

Department of Physics and Astronomy

The University of British Columbia

Dr. Marinus T. J. van Loenhout
Dr. Marinus T. J. van Loenhout

Rebel Cells: How Good Cells Turn Lethal

How does a cell make the choice to become a lethal cell that spreads a cancer? A new researcher to Canada is developing ways to understand the molecular mechanisms behind these cellular “fate choices”—an important step toward better cancer treatments.

Although all cells share the same genetic footprint, not all “decide” to spread cancerous tumours. Some tumour cells, it seems, are more dangerous than others. Identifying those individual cells and understanding how they make fate choices is the key to more targeted treatments, and the goal of Dr. Marinus T. J. van Loenhout, a promising young molecular biophysicist from the Netherlands now working at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

This research—which lies at the nexus of engineering, biology and genomics—will be invaluable for creating methods to control stem cells and for developing new tools to diagnose and treat cancer.

Dr. van Loenhout is a pioneer in understanding and visualizing the mechanics of DNA. His Ph.D. research revealing a new mechanism by which DNA coils may travel along the DNA molecule received international acclaim, with a seminal study published October 2012 in the prestigious journal Science.

A Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and now winner of the NSERC 2013 Howard Alper Postdoctoral Prize, he is working with other world-class researchers at UBC’s Centre for High-Throughput Biology to understand how certain cells decide to spread cancer and whether they can be “tricked” into not propagating.