Van Amerongen Lab                    Stem cell and Cancer Biology

Section of Molecular Cytology     -     Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences     -     University of Amsterdam

Current Issues in Developmental Biology 2017-2018

About the course


Current Issues in Developmental Biology (CIIDB) is aimed at first and second year MSc students in the Biomedical or Biological Sciences with an interest in developmental biology (embryogenesis, stem cells, regenerative medicine, aging). In this course we will meet weekly to discuss and critically evaluate recent publications from the scientific literature.
You will become familiar with current concepts and challenges in these fields and state of the art experimental techniques used to address these issues. Some of these topics will be discussed in the form of a seminar by guest speakers.
If you have an active interest in understanding how complex tissues are formed and maintained and how a disruption of these processes can contribute to cancer formation and degenerative diseases, then this course could be of interest to you!

Renée developed this course together with dr. Yelena Budovskaya in 2014-2015. She is currently coordinating and teaching CIIDB together with dr. Frank Jacobs.

Update April 2018


We initially ran this course with approximately 10 students. In 2016-2017 we accommodated approximately 16 students and we had 13 participants in 2017-2018. A minimum of 10 and a cap of 16 students is the best way to ensure interaction and in depth discussions: every student gets to take the lead in presenting a paper and we don't have too many weeks in which we have to discuss two papers per session.

This year we also experimentend by letting the students pick their own papers to discuss. This worked out really well, so with a bit of tweaking we will continue using this format.

Frequently asked questions


1. How do I register?
Interested students should register via SIS. A link can be found in the study guide.

2a. Can I register if I'm studying Neurosciences?
Yes. The topics we will discuss in this course are of as much interest to neurobiologists as to other life scientists. And one of the instructors is quite a big fan of the brain himself. However, we do ask you to demonstrate that you have the required level of background knowledge (i.e. first-year MSc level knowledge in Molecular and Cellular Biology), which may be an issue depending on your BSc trajectory and current MSc track. Students from the Molecular Neurosciences program should definitely not run into any problems. We suggest that you discuss this with one of your track coordinators. During the course we will only have limited time to reiterate the underlying biological principles of the papers we discuss and we do find that students lacking sufficient background knowledge tend to struggle.

2b. Can I register if I'm studying Forensic Sciences?
That question is a bit more difficult to answer. As explained above, we expect you to have the required level of background knowledge (i.e. first-year MSc level knowledge in Molecular and Cellular Biology) and we do find that students lacking sufficient background knowledge tend to struggle. We suggest that you discuss this with your track coordinator. Other than that, it depends on your personal interest. As an example, we can discuss everything ranging from hematopoietic stem cell emergence in zebrafish (link to paper can be found here) to a SNP associated with blond hair in Europeans (link to paper can be found here). We also try to cover multiple model organisms wherever possible, including mice, C. elegans and Drosophila.

3. How are the journal club discussions organized?
The format may change slightly from year to year, depending on how many students register for the course. In 2015-2016 we picked papers surrounding three different themes: "Wnt signaling and cancer", "Stem cells and human brain disease" and "Epigenetics and gene regulation". Since these cover some of the lecturers' active research interests, we will definitely keep advocating for students to pick papers in any of these three areas. After all, there is rapid progress in each of them - so plenty of new papers to discuss every year!
Up to now, we have stuck to the following format: Each student prepares and presents a paper of his/hear choice, but the whole group takes active part in the discussion. Two students prepare the paper as "technical assistants" to help the main presenter in explaining some of the novel and sometimes complicated technical tools and approaches. These sessions are a lot of fun and we really discover the strong and weak points of a specific study together.
We also always try to have one guest speaker (preferably an early career scientist who has been involved in the nitty gritty experimental research as well as the writing) whose paper we dissect. This also gives students to ask questions about the things you do not read back in the paper...

4. How do students evaluate the course?
Well, here's what the students themselves have said in the course review:
"Good practice in reading scientific papers"
"I think every student needs to follow this course"
"This is a one of a kind course where you get to develop essential skills"
"We were all encouraged to think critically"
"I learned a lot, and will definitely be able to apply this knowledge in later stages of my academic journey"
"It is a safe environment where everyone can participate in the discussion"
"This course is a real example of how an MSc course should be"
"I would definitely recommend this course to other master students"

5. Does that mean there is nothing to improve?
There is always room for improvement. In particular, we will continue to try out new formats that will enable us to keep the workload (number of papers discussed each week) managable and to maintain the small-scale atmosphere, while also allowing us to accept the maximum number of students.