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New Tefaf professor: Jan Hoeijmakers

New Tefaf professor: Jan Hoeijmakers

MAASTRICHT. The Rotterdam geneticist Jan Hoeijmakers, in broader circles known as the “ageing professor”, will hold the Tefaf chair for 2017. This annually alternating chair for cancer research, sponsored by art fair Tefaf, comes under research institute GROW.

Why Hoeijmakers? “Because he is a hotshot in the field of DNA repair,” says professor Frans Ramaekers, head of the Maastricht research institute GROW. “Knowledge on this subject is crucial for the treatment of cancer. It was no surprise that the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2015 went to experts in the field of DNA repair. Hoeijmakers was asked to take a seat in the Nobel committee last year. That is of course a great honour, although you immediately know that you are being passed up for the Nobel Prize.”   

The Rotterdam molecular geneticist has carried out research into how proteins can detect damage to the DNA, how they can subsequently cut these from the DNA and fill the holes up with new genetic material. Ramaekers: “If you have been to the beach on a sunny day, there is a lot that needs to be repaired. And as you get older, DNA errors creep in. Most of the time, this is alright, but sometimes it is not. Hoeijmakers has exposed a series of mechanisms behind this, which resulted in publications in just about all top journals.” In professional circles, he is known as the first researcher who succeeded in cloning a DNA repair gene in humans.

He won the Dutch Spinoza Prize in 1999 and the Swiss Louis Jeantet Prize in 1995. “He is part of the Onco XL club, which also includes other Dutch top researchers such as Hans Clevers and René Bernards. They want to apply research results more quickly in clinics.”

In Maastricht, Hoeijmakers will give several master classes for students and researchers throughout the academic year. The first is on 16 March, prior to his inaugural speech, which is entitled Keeping your genome intact protects from cancer and ageing. Hoeijmakers is the sixth Tefaf professor, his predecessors including former KNAW president Clevers and Nobel Prize winners Aaron Ciechanover and Harald Zur Hausen.

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