Science in person
Laura Heitman, Associate Professor in the Division of Drug Discovery & Safety at Leiden University, is one of a select group of talented young Principal Investigators currently being integrated into Oncode Institute. Her reason for joining Oncode is simple. Beating cancer is a highly multidisciplinary endeavour, which makes networking among scientists, clinicians, patients and policy makers essential for success.
Associate Professor in the Division of Drug Discovery & Safety
at Leiden University
An interview with Laura Heitman, one of Oncode’s next-generation Investigators
“I believe that being part of a community really focused on a certain disease area is very interesting because you can really make an impact together. And when I realized that Oncode lacked expertise in my area of medicinal chemistry, I thought the community could potentially benefit from my expertise. With my research already moving into the oncology field, it was perfect timing,” she says.
Laura’s specialist area is the study of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), a class of proteins associated with transmembrane cellular signalling. She is specifically interested in developing small molecule drugs that target these receptors more effectively – for example drugs that can bind their targets longer or alter its downstream activity across cell membranes. Her aim is to develop new drugs that better target tumour cells, or drugs that activate the body’s immune system to destroy tumour cells.
I believe that being part of a community really focused on a certain disease area is very interesting because you can really make an impact together.
So, what does she expect from her Oncode position?
“I hope to expand my network so that my fundamental research can have more clinical impact, at least to the point of proving that targeting GPCRs with drugs that have been optimized in my group could be beneficial in a disease setting,” says Laura. “We already have some molecules that I think are interesting, and that now need to be tested in more advanced cellular models. In the coming months, I hope to set up collaborations with other groups in Oncode that can help us do it.”
As for her initial impression of Oncode, Laura is impressed.
“I was invited to the yearly meeting in January and I must admit I was a little bit overwhelmed. I had not realised how large and diverse the Institute is, which means there’s a lot going on. The good thing is that as a young Investigator I have access to excellent mentoring, which means I get a lot of personal feedback. So, my impression so far is very positive,” she says.