PhD Student – Imaging Studies in Pediatric Sarcoma

The Princess Máxima Center for Paediatric Oncology, Utrecht, is the national research hospital concentrating healthcare, research and education with regard to paediatric cancer. The mission of the Princess Máxima Center is to cure every child with cancer, with optimal quality of life. We bring together the best possible care and scientific research, creating a unique interdisciplinary institute for paediatric oncology in Europe.

Group Merks
The focus of group Merks is to improve cure and quality of life in paediatric sarcoma patients. For this our aim is to answer key clinical questions in staging, treatment, and follow up. As Chair of the European paediatric Soft tissue sarcoma Study Group (EpSSG) and Vice-Chair of the Executive Board of the Euro Ewing Consortium (EEC), Hans Merks’ aim is to coordinate, design and implement international prospective clinical trials, including translational research, focused on sarcoma across the paediatric and young adult age range. Research in paediatric sarcoma pre-eminently is a multidisciplinary and international collaboration including a diversity of basic, translational and clinical research partners.

Within the group Merks, the Paediatric Sarcoma Imaging Group aims to design and implement innovative imaging studies to identify early prognostic and predictive biomarkers in clinical trials and individual patient care, and optimize staging and surveillance strategies. This entails a close collaboration with prof. dr. Rick R. van Rijn (Amsterdam UMC, Imaging Lead of EpSSG), Simone ter Horst, Bart de Keizer, Arthur Braat (Radiology UMCU), and the PROVIDI lab of Alexander Leemans (Imaging Sciences Institute UMCU).

The project
Paediatric sarcoma encompasses a group of rare diseases where progress can only be made in international collaborative randomized trials. In these studies only few new treatment strategies can be tested with survival being the only valid, but late, endpoint. Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify early imaging biomarkers, that may serve as surrogate endpoint, for the assessment of treatment efficacy. Early evaluation of treatment efficacy will facilitate timely selection of promising treatment arms and their transition into phase III trials. At the same time, treatment arms with less promising results can be closed early, allowing for other treatments to be introduced and tested. A second unmet need, is the lack of biomarkers to identify patients at high risk for relapse while on standard treatment. These patients should be identified in an early stage in order to be eligible for more intense or innovative systemic and local treatment strategies aimed to improve outcome. Therefore our group has designed and is currently implementing imaging biomarker studies in two large international clinical trials: First, the Frontline and Relapsed-Rhabdomyosarcoma trial (FaR-RMS), a pan European trial including all newly diagnosed and relapsed rhabdomyosarcoma patients. Second, the Inter-Ewing-1 study, a European trial, also including Australia-New Zealand, open to include all newly diagnosed and relapsed Ewing sarcoma patients.

For this PhD project the main focus will be on prospective testing of 2 potential predictive biomarker techniques, diffusion weighted MRI- and FDG-PET/CT changes, as response to chemotherapy.

Education and skills
We are looking for a highly enthusiastic PhD candidate with excellent social skills, who can work in a team and build an international network, and who has a strong interest in medical imaging. As the PhD student will play a central role in the implementation and execution of both studies in the context of international clinical trials, some clinical experience as resident is recommended. Training in the interpretation of imaging techniques will be part of the project. The candidate should hold a Master’s degree in Medicine. A positive mindset, creativity, collaborative skills, oral and written command of English, and persistence are key for this position.

What we offer
A temporary, full-time PhD position for a total duration of 4 years (36 hours / week) in an ambitious and internationally recognised team. You will initially be contracted for a period of 1 year, after which your performance will be evaluated and the contract may be extended for three more years. You will be working in a very stimulating and cross-disciplinary research environment, combining cutting-edge imaging research in a state-of-the-art clinical trial environment. Your gross monthly salary will depend on experience and background, starting in scale FWG 50/6 with 8,33% gross monthly salary holiday allowance and 8,33 % end-of-year bonus. The Princess Máxima Center operates according to the collective labour agreement ‘cao algemene ziekenhuizen’.

Applying for this position?
You can apply for this position until November 30 2021 by pressing the orange apply button on this screen. Personal interviews with selected candidates are planned for December 2021, the starting date for this position is February 2022. When we receive sufficient applications prior to the application deadline, we reserve the right to close the application early. You are welcome to contact Dr. Hans Merks ( for additional information about the vacancy. Detailed information about the Princess Máxima Center for Paediatric Oncology can also be found at

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