PhD student – RNA translation and novel microproteins in pediatric cancer (Group van Heesch)

The Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology is a new research hospital concentrating healthcare, research and education with regard to cancer in children in a single location in Utrecht. The institute aims to provide the highest level of care for all children with cancer and has the ambition to cure all children of cancer and significantly reduce unwanted side effects. The center brings together the best possible care and scientific research, creating a unique interdisciplinary institute for pediatric oncology in Europe.

The van Heesch group
The overall aim of our group is to understand the role of RNA translation, the process by which ribosomes produce protein from RNA template, in the development and progression of childhood cancer. Although RNA translation is an integral part of gene expression regulation, very little is known about how, when and where specific RNA molecules are being translated and – more importantly – how often this goes wrong in childhood malignancies. We have a particular interest in discovering yet unknown ‘microproteins’ that newly originate in tumor tissue through unconventional translational activity. We study these small regulatory proteins mechanistically to understand their functions, and aim exploit their tumor-specificity for (immuno)therapeutic applications. The van Heesch lab is positioned at the intersection of fundamental and clinical science, for which we rely heavily on both wet lab and computational approaches. Through creative thinking, clear communication, active collaboration and keeping an open mind for new and exciting ideas, our primary aim is to develop our discoveries into clinically relevant diagnostic and therapeutic applications that directly benefit the patient.

The project
To better understand RNA translation in childhood cancer and further decipher this ‘black box’ in gene expression, we make use of state-of-the-art systems biology approaches that center around translatome-wide views of active mRNA translation. For this, we have recently streamlined the integration of genotypes, transriptomes, translatomes and proteomes of small tissue biopsies (van Heesch et al., Cell 2019). This procedure allows us to identify and quantify the production of previously undiscovered proteins, including hundreds of novel biologically active ‘microproteins’ translated from presumed long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs). However – the functions of these microproteins are fully unknown. The goal of the project is to identify and characterize novel microproteins with important roles in pediatric cancer. For this, we will profile solid tumor tissue biopsies and use analytical tools to identify microprotein production, which we will further investigate in vitro using genetic perturbation, localization analyses and interactome studies.

Education and skill
We are looking for a highly enthousiastic and motivated PhD candidate with a great interest in molecular (cancer) genetics, systems biology and gene expression regulation. Experience with sequencing technologies, (stem) cell culturing and/or affinity with data analysis (R, python) would be advantageous. The candidate should hold a Master’s degree in life sciences or related disciplines. Creativity, close collaboration with other lab members and clear communication of your results are key for this position.

What we offer
A temporary, full-time PhD position for a total duration of 4 years (36 hours / week). 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 biological research with state-of-the-art technology and bioinformatics. Your gross monthly salary will depend on experience and background, starting in scale 45 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 are welcome to contact Dr. Sebastiaan van Heesch ( for additional information about the vacancy. Detailed information about the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology can also be found at

You can apply for this position until April 7th 2020 by pressing the orange apply button “solliciteer direct” on this screen .
Personal interviews with selected candidates are planned for May 2020, the starting date for this position is mid July 2020.
When we receive sufficient applications prior to the application deadline, we reserve the right to close the application early.

Acquisitie naar aanleiding van deze vacature wordt niet op prijs gesteld.

Solliciteer direct

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Wij zoeken gedreven Kinderverpleegkundigen met díe specifieke drive en unieke spirit die ons centrum zo kenmerken. Natuurlijk neem jij de vakkennis mee die nodig is om dit bijzondere werk te kunnen doen.

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