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The promises and the dark side of stem cells

Geneticist Hans Clevers will give the first Niko Tinbergen lecture new style on 10 December, which is all about stem cells. The young Leiden professors Ariane Briegel and Susana Chuva de Sousa Lopes talk about bacterial noses and the cultivation of egg cells in the lab in short introductory lectures.

With new techniques for stem cells, doctors hope to cure various diseases or to replace old, worn-out tissues. Researchers are also working on growing stem cells into mini-organs. These are not yet suitable for transplantation, but in the long term, they certainly offer prospects, according to Clevers, Professor of Molecular Genetics at UMC Utrecht and Utrecht University. But stem cells also have a shadow side. For example, they are the basis of cancer. That is why more knowledge about stem cells is needed, Clevers will argue during his lecture. Understanding the origin of cancer will hopefully also lead to new therapies.

Bacterial nose

Before the keynote lecture, two young Leiden professors will talk about their fields. Ariane Briegel (Institute of Biology Leiden) explains how she uses super-powerful microscopes to study the bacterial ‘nose’, with which they ‘smell’ their chemical environment and move towards favourable conditions. But pathogenic microorganisms also use their nose as the first step in invading a host. Therefore, Briegel's knowledge can help to quickly detect diseases such as cancer.

Mini ovaries

Susana Chuva de Sousa Lopes (LUMC) conducts research that can help to increase the fertility of women. She tries to let immature egg cells, that have been removed from women before chemotherapy, mature outside the body, intending to place them back later on. She is also working on mini-organs that could take over the function of ovaries. With this work, she also contributes to a better understanding of all kinds of diseases.

About the Niko Tinbergen lecture

Between 2003 and 2013, the Niko Tinbergen lecture was a household name in the Netherlands, with the big names of biology coming to Leiden to talk about their field. Among others, Frans de Waal, Richard Dawkins, and E.O. Wilson ensured full rooms and extensive media attention. From 2019, the Faculty of Science will return this prestigious lecture in a completely renewed formula.

The Niko Tinbergen lecture (in English) is freely accessible; registration is required. Read more about the lecture and sign up at www.tinbergenlezing.nl.

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