Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob
Leon de Windt inspired by Jeffery D. Molkentin
Jeffery D. Molkentin is an American molecular biologist who works six and a half days a week, who can be incredibly funny, and wants to have nothing to do with quick and dirty scientific research. He was one of the first to go in search of the heart’s DNA, twenty years ago. “A pioneer who dropped a bombshell among cardiologists throughout the world,” says professor Leon de Windt about his great example.
Molkentin (48) has his own laboratory in the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, where De Windt worked with him for three years on a postdoc. Among others, the American received the Howard Hughes Award: the American equivalent of the Dutch Spinoza prize, which is often a prelude to the Nobel Prize, De Windt explains. “He is young enough to receive it.”
“Until twenty years ago, research into cardiovascular diseases was usually descriptive: what does the heart look like? How does it work? Since the sixteenth century, when Leonardo da Vinci figured out what the heart looked like and showed us through wonderful anatomical drawings, nothing much has been added conceptually. Jeffery entered into a conservative field, populated by cardiologists and physiologists who argued that the heart was a muscle that contracted. That’s it!
“Jeffery wants to really understand the heart. He wants to know what is happening in the cells, in the cores of the cells. This may sound logical today, but at the end of the last century it was new. He cut and pasted genetic material, each time isolating a small part and researching why this was important for the heart muscle. So far, he has described hundreds of proteins, from which the whole research field has profited. He is never satisfied with quick proof; he would rather try to find five ways to show that his analysis is correct. In these times of ‘a quick score’ and sloppy science, it is very rewarding to read his articles. I would stake my life on them.”
According to De Windt, Molkentin is also a researcher who will be the cause of a scientific earthquake in the cardiovascular world this year. “There was a stem cell hype in our field. It was claimed that all cardiovascular diseases could be cured using stem cells from bone marrow. Fifty million euro and dollars was pumped into the quick and dirty research, patients were injected with stem cells. Such a bone marrow extraction is a very drastic and painful procedure, but it does nothing with the heart. Jeffery posed critical questions, stepped in because nobody had done thorough research, and has now finally proved that this method does not work. That is one of the beautiful things about him: he shows how thorough research should be carried out. Not just to the academic field, but to the rest as well. He is extremely strict as a research leader. His motto: desperate diseases need desperate remedies.”
This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most