18 March 2023
Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine (MERLN)

Making more bone about it

MERLN’s Sabine van Rijt has won the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant for her Nano4Bone research project. She aims to develop a new type of biomaterial for bone cancer patients. The composite material based on nanoparticles and polymers will kill remaining cancer cells and instruct the body to regrow surgically removed bone.

Growing around obstacles

Her academic career was everything but linear and led her from Leiden to Vancouver, Edinburgh, Warwick, and Munich. It included a year away from academia and a change of fields. And it didn’t’ start auspiciously. As an atypical learner, Van Rijt had rather average grades in elementary school and was discouraged from pursuing secondary education at the highest level. For the sake of expedience, she chose an economical profile in high school.

“I realised then that I was much more interested in science, so I added an extra year in high school focusing on all the STEM subjects.” This allowed her entry to a university of applied science. While Van Rijt enjoyed conducting experiments, she was even more interested in understanding the underlying workings. Successful completion of the first year enabled her to enter university and study chemistry.

After a PhD and a postdoc in inorganic chemistry, she worked for the Dutch Research Council (NWO) before following her passion for science back into research as she switched to regenerative medicine when coming to UM to work at MERLN. While daunting, this was also motivating. “I love fundamental science but it’s incredibly inspiring to see the purpose, how this will improve people’s lives.”

Growing into the position

The prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant of two million euros over five years will allow her to hire five more researchers to work alongside the six PhD students she’s already supervising. “I found the leadership courses UM has invested in really helpful in dealing with all the diverse tasks including teaching, managing, and administration.”

Van Rijt appreciates the recognition that comes with winning the grant but also points out that this shouldn’t be considered the only way to succeed and that, in any case, it came after a string of unsuccessful applications. “Honestly, it wasn’t’ easy to get where I am today, and there were moments I considered quitting altogether.” She credits internal motivation as the most important factor in facing the hard work and inevitable setbacks. “You have to do what you’re passionate about. It takes so much energy to keep going, so spend as much time as you can on research that gives you back energy.”

By: Florian Raith