Malin K.B. Jonsson, PhD – Post-doctoral researcher
I left Sweden just after high school, to travel and explore my interests. After a short time in the UK, I came to the Netherlands in December of 2001. I discovered an interesting, English-language curriculum at University College in Maastricht, and decided to study there. The broad, well-rounded program attracted me, especially in the fields of Physiology and Biology.
Although I explored the Master’s programs at a number of universities in a number of countries, UMC Utrecht offered the right fit for me. Not only the courses and fields of study, but the general feeling and environment of the campus, and the well-established program drew me here. My Biomedical Master’s study included two internships, one at UMC Utrecht, and one at AstraZeneca, a large pharmaceutical company in Sweden. The two studies were closely linked.
My work on the two internships led to the development of a PhD project for me on Stem Cell Derived Cardiomyocytes. I studied the cells from an electrophysiological point of view and with a focus on arrhythmia.
AstraZeneca is working on several medications to treat arrhythmia, and was interested in my work as part of their drug testing process. After all, cells of human origin offer more accurate and realistic results than animal testing can.
I split my time between Sweden and the Netherlands during the course of my PhD work. I’m now doing post-doctorate work for Cellectis Stem Cells (formerly Cellartis) as a Marie Curie fellow within the EU’s Initial Training Network called CardioNeT. CardioNeT is a group of 12 academic and industrial partners involved in cutting-edge cardiac research.
UMC Utrecht is very strong in electrophysiology, but they also have an excellent Stem Cell program. This, combined with the opportunity to work with a private company that is using my research to directly impact pharmaceutical trials was quite exciting. Being in the AstraZeneca lab, and seeing the models they are using, and how my model could improve their work, was quite important to me.
Our use of stem cells makes the research much more immediate and much closer to direct clinical outcomes than animal studies. Working in CardioNeT offers the best of all worlds. As a researcher, I have immediate access to quality resources from a private institution. At the same time, Cellectis has the advantage of working directly with top scientists and academics, working in state-of-the-art laboratories, and making great advancements in the field. As an academic researcher, I have a lot of freedom to conduct my research as I choose, and yet my results have a direct link to the clinical and practical applications I am studying.
Focus and freedom
UMC Utrecht is a well-established research institution with a great reputation. PhD candidates can benefit, not only from the resources and opportunities available here, but also from the guidance. While I was working on my PhD, there was a direct focus on completion. Many institutions don’t do that, but at UMC Utrecht, completing my PhD, on time and on schedule, was top of mind for me, and also my professors and supervisors.
Another key advantage is that the Netherlands, like Sweden and the UK, do not struggle with the controversy about human Stem Cell research that many other countries encounter. This allows the research to continue, to grow and to improve, uninhibited by external political pressures.
However, with the development of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS), we may soon see an end to the controversy. IPS cells are adult human cells, such as skin cells, that are genetically manipulated to revert back to being stem cells. Developments in this area may sound like science fiction, but the scientific and medical benefits of such work are without measure.
Ultimately, it is the people I’ve encountered during my research that have had the greatest impact on my development. My colleagues and supervisors have inspired me to do this type of research, and have helped me plan my studies and my trajectory to get the most out of my work. Guidance has been the most important aspect of my work at UMC Utrecht.