Sunday - July the 3rd, 2016 - Ronja Houtekamer

On Sunday, July the 3rd the time had finally come: the yearly foreign excursion of the Honours Programme of Biomedical Sciences was about to start. This year, we went to Paris in the first week of July. Our goal was to visit several biomedical labs and companies, as well as learn about the different aspects of the biomedical world and, of course, visit all the lovely tourist spots of Paris. We gathered on early in the morning on Utrecht Central Station, where our train bound for Amsterdam left at 7.10 A.M. In Amsterdam we boarded the Thalys and we were on our way! During the ride, students enjoyed themselves by reading a book, chatting and catching up on some much needed sleep. About three hours later we arrived in Paris and we continued our trip using the subway system, finally reaching our hostel The Loft. The rooms, which were perfect for four or five persons, were divided between ourselves. Then we had the chance to settle down a little in ours rooms, while members of the travel committee scoured the neighbourhood for the nearest supermarket.

In the afternoon we had planned a walk through the neighbourhood which is called Montmartre. Among other highlights, we saw Moulin Rouge, the church of Saint-Peter of Montmartre, the artist’s square la Place du Tertre and the biggest group of Islandic football fans ever. At every stop, one of the students would tell us all about the highlight. Our last stop was the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur and afterwards we were free to discover Paris or have a drink at a café. Later that evening we were treated with a pizza party at the hostel. After dinner most of us visited a nearby café to watch the football game between France and Iceland, as our trip was conveniently scheduled during the Euros. Regardless of the lack of excitement on the field, as Iceland was 4-0 behind rather fast, and of our lack of sleep, we enjoyed ourselves a lot. However, as soon as the game had finished we were all of to bed, so we could rise early the next day for our first lab excursions of the week.

Monday – July 4th, 2016 – Arthur van den Burg

On Monday we visited two different research institutes: Gustave Roussy and Institut Pasteur. After breakfast we left the hostel around 8.00 A.M. bound for the Gustave Roussy institute. This institute is focused on cancer research, treatment and education. Following a short introduction, professor Bernard Lopez, head of the Recombination and Repair group, gave a presentation on their research: double stranded breaks in the DNA. He mentioned some exogenic and endogenic factors that can lead to double stranded breaks. Next, he explained the concepts homologous recombination versus non-homologous end-joining. Professor Lopez’ group is mainly focused on researching the signal transduction pathways that are responsible for the choice between these two processes. Furthermore, they look into the consequences of double stranded breaks and oncogenesis.

Dr. Corinne Dupuv, the next speaker, presented her research on the role of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) regarding the development of thyroid cancer. ROS are produced by NADPH oxidases, which could happen under the influence of ionizing radiation. Dr. Dupuv is researching the signal transduction pathways through which ROS can lead to genetic instability and oncogenesis.

To conclude our visit to the Gustave Roussy institute we were divided into small groups and we got to see the labs themselves. We also had the opportunity to talk with the researchers about their individual projects.

For our afternoon program we traveled to Institut Pasteur. After having lunch in the neighborhood we received a guided tour over Institut Pasteur’s grounds and subsequently we visited the research group of Tarek Msadek. His group looks into the molecular basis for the pathogenicity of Staphylococcus aureus. The research group had discovered that mice infected with a particular strain containing a constitutively active WalR protein, were not affected as much as the control group. Apparently, the WalR system is important for the synthesis of the bacterium’s cell wall and the bacterium’s virulence. However, when this protein was made continuously, the host’s immune system would recognize the infection in an early stage and eliminate the pathogen more efficiently.

Our last visit of the day was also in the Institut Pasteur. Louis Ates, a former PhD student at the VU University Medical Center, showed us around the department ‘Genomes and Genetics: Integrative Mycobacterial Pathogenomics. During the tour he talked about his research into the protein secretion of Mycobacterium tuberculosis at the VUMC and how he was continuing this project in Paris. We could take a look at a BSL-3 lab while listening to all the safety measures that are needed when you are working with a pathogen like M. tuberculosis. Afterwards, he talked more about his experiences regarding choosing a study program, choosing to do a Ph.D. and studying abroad. Afterwards, he answered all of our questions on these subjects.

Our last activity of the day was having dinner at Chez Gladines, which is known for its Basque cuisine.

Tuesday – July 5th, 2016 – Sara Tamminga

Tuesday morning we went to the research group of Philippe Menasché. His lab is focused on using myocardial progenitor cells for developing cell therapy in order to restore failing myocardium. One part of their experiments is about finding the best way to grow and implant these cells. Furthermore, they search for a matrix in which the cells can grow that will be automatically degraded after implantation in the body. Finally they also focus on immunosuppression and creating immuno-tolerance for the implanted cells. After the presentations we had a quick tour around the lab and visited their surgery rooms.

Tuesday afternoon we had some spare time. A large part of the group took the Parisian RER train and went to visit the Palace of Versailles. Because of the long lines we decided to visit not the palace itself but one of the enormous gardens around it. The garden was very impressive, with all its huge perfectly shaped hedges, fountains, ponds and statues. It was a nice and sunny afternoon and we had a nice walk through the gardens.

This evening, we were free to decide where we wanted to have dinner. The two groups of students, second and third year bachelor students, separated and had dinner with their own classmates.

Wednesday – July 6th, 2016 – Elise Saager

Today we had the opportunity to marvel at the beautiful Institut Pasteur once again, although our point of view was slightly different this time: we visited another building on the campus which houses the company Axenis. Most of us did not know what to expect from the term humanized mice, in addition to a lot of curiosity about doing research outside of the academic world. Luckily, we received several presentations on the research itself as well as on the structure of the company. Having started as a very small business, Axenis has grown immensely in the last few years and has managed to become profitable due to their revolutionary mouse models.

These mice have been injected with human CD34+ hematopoietic progenitors following radiation treatment. As a result, the mice will produce human immune cells. The humanized mice are extremely valuable in immunological research, as the results obtained in studies that use these mice are more representative for the human immune system.

Having spent lunch time in a nearby café or park, we crossed the street and visited the Musée Pasteur. During a tour we went through the house where Louis Pasteur himself worked and lived during the last years of his scientific career.

In the evening we went had dinner together at restaurant Muxu. Next, part of the group watched the semi-final of the Euros between Portugal and Wales. Not surprisingly, Portugal beat Wales 2-0 and we had a lot of fun!

Thursday – July 7th, 2016 – Marloes Verkerke

On Thursday, we spent a whole day at the Cochin Institut. The institute consists of three departments: Infection, Immunity & Inflammation; Endocrinology, Metabolism & Diabetes; Development, Reproduction & Cancer. After we had coffee, the day started with four seminars about different topics throughout the three departments.

Agnès Lehuen told us about the immunology of diabetes and the role of iNKT cells which are thought to inhibit the differentiation of autoreactive T cells. Next topic was colon cancer and Beatrice Romagnolo talked about inhibition of autophagy which could restrain cancer growth. Then we switched back to the immunology when Frederic Pene addressed the immunosuppression induced by sepsis which leads to secondary infections and a higher chance of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The last seminar was by Anne Hosmalin, our host for the day, and she told us about the immune response to HIV. Then we had an incredible lunch arranged by the institute during which we could also talk to researchers from the labs.

The afternoon was filled with visits of different labs. We were split in three groups and each group had its own program. For instance we could label our own cells obtained from the mucous membrane of the cheek or we could dress like researchers working in a SL3 lab. We also saw some imaging techniques which visualized for instance the activation of immune cells with a calcium dye. After this very interesting afternoon, we had the Jecco’s reception with a group of masters, PhD’s, and post-docs. It was very nice to be able to interact with those people in an informal way. Then we travelled to the restaurant Léon de Bruxelles where you can eat all kinds of seafood. That evening, the French national team had to play against Germany in the semi-finals of the EK, so we watched the game at a café with some French supporters. After the match, we went back to the hostel after an interesting, but long day.

Friday – July 8th, 2016 – Marieke Nühn

On Friday, Paris Descartes University was visited again. In the morning, the neuroscience department was visited, at which Etienne Audinat told us about his research on the interactions between glial cells and neurons. His colleague Maria Cecilia Angulo continued with a presentation about her research on oligodendrocyte precursor cells, OPCs. Finally, they gave a tour of their lab, at which for example some experiments with mice were showed. After de lunchbreak, another department of Paris Descartes University was visited; the department of cellular homeostasis and cancer. There, different presentations about research on telomeres and telomerase, antiviral responses and factors and mechanisms that are associated with tumor aggressiveness were given. The day ended with a delicious dinner at a typical French creperie.

Saturday – July 9th, 2016 – Susanna Plugge

On our last day in Paris our schedule contained no lab visitations or complicated molecular pathways, but everyone could fill in their day the way they wanted! Early in the evening our train bound for good old Utrecht would leave Paris, but until that time we explored Paris in small groups. Marieke, Lucca and I (Susanna) visited, as any women would, the Champs d’Élysée and walked all the way from one end to the other, finally reaching the Arc de Triomphe. Following this somewhat tiring adventure on our flip-flops, we decided to find some peace in the idyllic gardens of the Louvre. Of course, the necessary French delicacies could not be forgotten. Having been fully re-energized, it was, regrettably, already time for us return to the hostel. After a couple of hours we were already on board of the Thalys bound for the Netherlands and felt like no time had passed at al.