Interview with Lindau Alumna Floryne Buishand
This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Floryne and get inspired.
Floryne Buishand, 30, from the Netherlands, is a postdoctoral researcher at the National Cancer Institute/NIH, Bethesda, USA, studies genomic changes associated with endocrine cancers with the ultimate goal of identifying novel diagnostic and prognostic markers, as well as novel therapeutic targets. One of her special interests is the field of veterinary comparative oncology: the study of naturally occurring cancers in pet dogs provides a suitable model for the advancement of the understanding, diagnosis and management of cancer in humans. Floryne participated in the 64th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
My background is in veterinary medicine. When I started at vet school, I was convinced that I would become a small animal veterinarian in private practice, because this had always been my dream. However, during college I was selected to participate in the Honors Program of Utrecht’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. This program is an additional year on top of the normal curriculum, and it is 100% research focused. During that year I got inspired to pursue a career in translational science. I realised that solely practicing veterinary medicine would eventually become too much of a routine for me; however, research would always stay challenging. The combination of clinic and research was very appealing to me, because on the one hand I could immediately contribute to curing small animals by practicing, and on the other hand I could contribute to potential future anti-cancer therapies through my research. Also, it would allow me to formulate fundamental research questions based on clinically relevant problems, take these to the lab, and eventually translate the research findings back to the clinic. Since I was fortunate enough to get good results from my Honors Program research, after obtaining my DVM degree, I was able to continue this research project as a Ph.D. candidate. I obtained a grant from The Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development, and this allowed me to perform my Ph.D. research alongside my clinical residency in small animal surgery.
Who are your role models?
Obviously, I’m thankful to my parents. Without their support I wouldn’t have been in the position that I am in now.
On a professional level, I have many role models. To name a few that I have met personally, I’d like to start with late Prof. Wim Misdorp, who was one of the founding fathers of veterinary comparative oncology. He was the first veterinarian to receive a grant in comparative cancer pathology at the Dutch Cancer Institute and the Queen Wilhemina Cancer Foundation, which resulted in his Ph.D. thesis in 1964 “Malignant mammary tumors in the dog and the cat compared with the same in women”. During his impressive career he has established collaborations between human hospitals and veterinary practices and he was the first to get a dual professorship at Utrecht’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, both in the Pathology Department as well as in the Small Animal Medicine Department. Standing with one leg in the pathology lab and with one leg in the clinic, he was able to further integrate these two disciplines. Other role models are Profs. Douglas McGregor and David Fraser, who have established the Veterinary Leadership Program at Cornell University. This unique summer research experience combines faculty-guided research with student-directed learning through participation in modules, workshops and group discussion that encourage responsible leadership, critical thinking and the development of teamwork skills. Over the last 28 years, Douglas McGregor and David Fraser have inspired many veterinary medicine students, including myself, facilitating career counselling and promoting the professional development of programme alumni as independent scientists and public health professionals.
Finally, thinking of strong women in science, I consider late Nobel Laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini as a role model. She was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of Nerve Growth Factor. At the time of her death, aged 103, she was the oldest living Nobel Laureate. Besides her outstanding research accomplishments, she also served in Italy’s Senate as Senator for Life and she has a foundation to support African women with potential for scientific accomplishment. I like her quote: “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”
How did you get to where you are in your career path?
During the final phase of my Ph.D., I realised that it would be important to gain research experience abroad, in order to build a successful scientific career. I always had NCI/NIH at the back of my mind, since I had visited NIH once in 2009, as part of a workshop of the Veterinary Leadership Program.
When I participated in the 2014 Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, I met Prof. Jens Habermann from Lübeck University. We shared similar research interests, so he invited me to give a lecture in Lübeck in 2015. It turned out that he had performed his postdoc at NCI and when he learned that I was looking to do a postdoc abroad, he connected me with Dr. Thomas Ried, his former postdoc supervisor at NCI. I applied for a Rubicon grant from the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research, and luckily this grant was honoured to me. That allowed me to start my postdoc at the Ried lab in 2016. Later this year I will start a new challenge at NCI as postdoc in the lab of Dr. Electron Kebebew.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Each project is different and has its own charm. Something that I very much enjoyed was one of the final projects during my Ph.D. In this project, we identified CD90 as a putative cancer stem cell marker in pancreatic endocrine cancer. Using a zebrafish embryo xenograft model we also demonstrated that anti-CD90 monoclonal antibodies decreased the viability and metastatic potential of insulinoma cells, suggesting that anti-CD90 monoclonals form a potential novel adjutant therapeutic modality. Obviously, this therapy is still far from the clinic. However, with my clinical background I also tremendously enjoy projects that are closer to the clinic. Therefore, I enjoyed my recent rotation at NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program (CTEP) very much, too. During my time at CTEP, I reviewed letters of intent for clinical trials and clinical trial protocols, and made improvement recommendations. It was very satisfying to realise that many people could already benefit from these clinical trials within 1-3 years, and even more people in the future if these drugs make it through Phase III trials.
What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?
It’s not my personality to feel immensely proud of what I do, or maybe this moment is yet to come. However, I’d like to rephrase: if that moment comes, I would be proud of the team work and not of my work alone, since science is ultimately a team effort. I tend to be my own devil’s advocate, always critically reviewing my work, looking for ways to improve. Although, I don’t feel pride, I can be very happy about work-related things. The happiest moment was during my Ph.D. defence. It was wonderful to end a period of hard work with a ceremonial defence in the midst of family, friends and colleagues.
What is a “day in the life” of Floryne like?
On a regular day I get up at 6 am, eat breakfast and go to the gym. I have started going to the gym every morning – weekends and holidays included – after I arrived in the U.S., and I haven’t missed a single day since. It’s a great way for me to wake-up and get energised for a productive day. I bike to NIH and normally start around 8 am. In the lab I am able to immediately start with my experiments, since I plan them ahead of time. I try to get as many experiments running in parallel in the morning. During protocol waiting steps I send emails, search papers or write manuscripts or grant proposals. However, if I really have to focus on writing, I’d rather do that at home, where I can focus better. If I am not having lunch with co-workers, I eat lunch in 5 min at my desk; it’s a habit that still persists from the time I was on clinics. I could probably make more time for lunch, but I like to keep going. During the afternoon I am finishing my experiments. The time I actually finish depends on the things I am working on that day, but usually I don’t have to work late on experiments. When I am finished I go home, make dinner or go out for dinner to meet friends. Bethesda is well known for its many restaurants, and I have made it my goal to eat at every one of them – I am getting there. After dinner I usually work a little more on emails, manuscripts or grants, and often my husband and I finish the day watching a good series. It’s too bad that we have to wait until 2019 for the final GoT season…
What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
My short term goals for my postdoc are to identify novel diagnostic and prognostic markers, as well as novel therapeutic targets, leading to several high impact first authored publications. Also, I am aiming to establish an endocrine cancer comparative oncology consortium. Clinicians and investigators in the fields of veterinary and human endocrine oncology, clinical trials, pathology, and drug development will be joined in this consortium, in order to improve knowledge, development of, and access to naturally occurring canine endocrine tumours, as a model for human disease. Canine and human comparisons represent an unprecedented opportunity to complement conventional endocrine tumour research paradigms, addressing a devastating group of cancers for which innovative diagnostic and treatment strategies are clearly needed. A clinical trial testing an agent in dogs can run between one and three years, whereas human clinical trials stretch between 10-15 years. Comparative oncology research could help by integrating results from canine trials into human trials, thereby speeding up the whole drug development process.
In the long term, I would like to keep contributing to the improvement of current cancer treatment modalities, either by running my own lab, or by coordinating a clinical therapeutics development program, like the work that is being performed at NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program.
What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
Back in The Netherlands, I used to play the piano a lot. I have been playing since I was five years old and although I did get the chance at the conservatory to pursue a career as a professional pianist, this has never been my dream. It’s great as a hobby, and I do miss having a piano here in the U.S. Furthermore, I love to be active: besides going to the gym, I am playing tennis and I love to hike, especially in the National Parks. So far, I have visited ~35 of them, and I am looking forward to add two more during our upcoming road trip through Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming Utah and Arizona.
What advice do you have for other women interested in science?
Historically, gender stereotypes in science have impeded supportive environments for women faculty. Stereotypes not only affect the social interactions and external evaluations of a stereotyped individual, but can also affect that individual’s performance. Social science research suggests that women’s perceptions of their environments are influenced by stereotype threat: the anxiety faced when confronted with situations in which one may be evaluated using a negative stereotype. For instance, it has been demonstrated that women perform worse on math tests when reminded of their gender, like older adults perform worse on memory tests when reminded of their age. So first of all, women should try to prevent that stereotype threat influences their perception of the environment. Since gender stereotypes should not be an issue, I would give women the same advice as men: the most important thing that someone interested in science should think very carefully about is who they will choose as a mentor. A mentor will have a big impact on the future career of a young scientist, both through an inspirational experience and through the practical benefits of vocational planning. Training decisions should only be made after discussing scientific interests and objectives with trusted advisors and individuals currently in training. Individuals contemplating graduate training should be advised to seek relevant information concerning prospective mentors, including a prospective mentor’s training record, his or her academic progression and productivity, the journals in which he or she has published, and peer regard as reflected in the frequency with which his or her published papers are cited in the scientific literature.
In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science?
CRISPR/Cas9 is a hot genome editing tool that was first reported in 2010 as a programmable system for creating DNA cuts at desired locations in prokaryotes. Since then, the system has been adapted enabling its use in eukaryotic cells. So far, CRISPR/Cas9 has been successfully used in vitro and ex vivo for editing, regulating and targeting genomes. The next step would be to use CRISP/Cas9 in vivo, because it could be the next breakthrough in cancer treatment. All cancers harbour multiple mutations that cause uncontrolled cell proliferation. With CRISPR/Cas9 these mutations could be corrected directly in cancer patients. However, before CRISPR/Cas9 makes it to the clinics, obviously some challenges still need to be solved, like off-target effects and efficiency and specificity of in vivo CRISPR/Cas9 delivery methods.
What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?
During the last two decades, women have already made substantial progress in several science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Female assistant professors are now at or above parity in psychological science and in most social sciences, and they are approaching parity in biological sciences. However, women remain less numerous at senior ranks in all fields. For example, females make up more than half of biomedical science undergraduate (58%) and postgraduate (53%) degrees but only 18% of full professors in the biomedical science. Apparently, women leave science at the transition from a mentored to an independent stage of their careers. These transition points along this career path offer a target to prevent the loss of highly trained women scientists.
One strategy to keep women on board is to provide specific “women in science fellowships”. At NCI the Sallie Rosen Kaplan postdoctoral fellowship for women in cancer research, provides additional mentoring opportunities, seminars, and workshops designed to strengthen leadership skills over a one-year period, which should enable female postdoctoral fellows to feel better equipped to transition to independent research careers.
Other strategies that could stimulate women to stay in science are a) various forms of flexibility with federal-grant funding designed to accommodate women with young children keeping these women in the game; b) increasing the value of teaching, service, and administrative experience in the tenure/promotion evaluation process; c) providing on-campus childcare centres; d) supporting requests from partners for shared tenure lines that enable couples to better balance work and personal/caretaking roles; e) stopping the tenure clock for one year per child due to childbearing demands; f) providing fully-paid leave for giving birth for tenure track women for one semester; g) providing equal opportunity for women and men to lead committees and research groups.