van Amerongen Lab - Developmental, Stem Cell & Cancer Biology

- Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences - University of Amsterdam -  
lab milestones    social    science    teaching    communication & outreach   


PhD defense: Saskia becomes dr. De Man

Today Saskia defended her PhD thesis in De Agnietenkapel, which was filled to the brim with family, friends and (former) colleagues. This was also the first time that Renée acted in the formal capacity of promotor and used her ius promovendi to officially award Saskia the title of doctor.

Saskia did an excellent job in answering questions from the committee members with just the right combination of confident eloquence and critical scientific nuance. In 45 minutes the full scope of the thesis (which literally deserves the description from mouse to molecule) was covered: from functional imaging to computational modelling and genetic screens. We were especially happy that Andres Lebensohn was able to come over from the United States to join in the celebration. Chapter 6 of the thesis describes the results from Saskia’s stay in his lab at the NIH.

Congratulations Saskia - and thank you again for being the driving force behind setting up the lab’s research line on imaging WNT/CTNNB1 signaling!

13 March, 2023

EMBO course Techniques for Mammary Gland Research

Together with Maria Vivanco (Spain) and Martin Jechlinger (Germany) Renée organised an EMBO practical course at the EMBL campus in Heidelberg. This was the 4th time this course was organised, but the first time that Renée was involved.


We had participants from all across the world - from Argentina and Mexico to Finland and Poland. The week was filled with fun and useful science, from fat pad transplantations and carmine stainings to intraductal injections, FACS and 3D organoid cultures with a demonstration of the local lightsheet microscopy set up and imaging facilities to boot.

The EMBL facilities were amazing, as was the local support during the week - not to mention the food in the EMBL canteen...

If the course is evaluated favourably by those attending, we we hope to be back in 2025!

10 March, 2023

Why outreach should count towards valorisation and impact

In the fall, Renée gave a lecture for high school teachers (organised by BetaPartners). Today we learned that one of the teachers was inspired to use the topic of genome editing and the information provided in the lecture to generate new learning materials and assignments for their high school students!

Not only fun to hear, but also evidence that outreach counts towards societal impact and valorisation of our basic research: somewhere in the Netherlands, high school students will soon be repairing oncogenic CTNNB1 mutations (at least on paper or in silico).

10 March, 2023

New PhD thesis

The third PhD thesis of the lab has rolled off the press and it looks beautiful. Saskia will defend this impressive body of work on 13 March.

16 February, 2023

Celebrate good times

Science is full of failure (cloning, grant applications, you name it). Therefore, it is even more important to celebrate the highlights! And luckily we had some happy events too: Anna started - as did most of our students - Tanne’s review article got officially accepted, Renée was co-author on a paper about flying squirrels (it is about WNT5A, really) that was accepted in Science Advances (collaboration with Ricardo Mallino at Princeton), so plenty of reason to have cake, stroopwafels and other cookies (responsibly spread out over multiple weeks).

6 February, 2023

Welcome students, welcome Anna!

Today, Anna started as a technician on the NWO-XL project. We are in the process of recruiting a PhD student, but Anna will help to get things up and running by cloning and generating new reporter alleles and setting up the 3D gastruloid cultures.
Welcome Anna!

We also had a new influx of students: Emma, Carlos, Eva and Marit are going to work at the bench, while Aoming and Jeltje join us for a dry-lab internship. This is a bit of an experiment, as these are our first collaborative internships where we co-supervise Aoming and Jeltje with Marten Postma and Martijs Jonker, who bring necessary expertise on image analysis and bioinformatics.
Welcome all students!

1 February, 2023

Nothing to see here...

... just two scientists doing a bit of tissue culture on Friday evening. The person on the right may have been slightly more rusty but also became more zen as part of the experience.

27 January, 2023

The fifth ENBDC Think Tank

Originally scheduled for December 2020, we finally succeeded in gathering (part of) the ENBDC organising committee in Amsterdam for our annual Think Tank. This fifth addition was co-organized by Renée and Jos Jonkers and was made possible by financial and in kind contributions from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Stem Cell Technologies.

We kicked things off with a lovely boat tour along the Amsterdam Light Festival on Wednesday evening. For the actual thinking we gathered in the University Library, where we were treated with views of De Singel from our round table Vondelzaal meeting room.

Stay tuned for the position paper that will come out of this Think Tank.

Thanks to all for coming to Amsterdam (and thanks to Amsterdam for doing its best to look so pretty so we could impress our visitors without any additional human effort).

8 December, 2022

Talk for high school teachers

Previously postponed (courtesy of the pandemic), Renée gave a talk for the Stichting Betapartners about basic breast cancer research and CRISPR/Cas genome editing. In the audience were biology (and other science) teachers for HAVO and VWO, TOAs and people from the LIO trajectory (leraar in opleiding, teacher in training).

Thanks to all the inquisitive and enthusiastic attendees for your attention and for asking original questions we do not typically get!

24 November, 2022

Marleen and Tanne attend the 2022 Wnt meeting in Japan

Marleen and Tanne returned from the 2022 Wnt meeting in Japan, where they both presented posters (and gave a flash talk). Luckily, they also had the opportunity for some sightseeing prior to the start of the conference to fully emerge themselves in Japanese culture.
They shared all of the exciting science (well, highlights of it) with the rest of the lab during lab meeting on the 23rd of November while everything was still fresh.

A big thank you to EMBO, het Amsterdams Universiteitsfonds en de Stichting ter bevordering van het onderzoek in de Biochemie for awarding travel fellowships, allowing us to send our two PhD students to the land of the rising sun as ambassadors of our lab!

23 November, 2022

The lab turns 9

Today marks the official 9 year anniversary of the Wntlab, counting from when Renée started her tenure track at the University of Amsterdam. On to our second lustrum!

1 November, 2022

Update from the midst of the busiest teaching season: team work for the win

There is never a good time to get sick, but the busiest teaching season definitely is not the time - and COVID brain fog and fatigue are definitely real!

Together, Thijs and Renée managed to get all of the teaching done in both the Frontiers in Biomedical Sciences BSc track and the Developmental and Therapeutic Biology MSc track. This included a couple of new lectures on gastruloids, organoids and multi-omics for developmental biology on top of our already existing lectures on stem cells, Nodal/Bmp and Wnt signaling. With Yorick taking the lead in whipping a new developmental (epi)genomics assignment into shape, we managed to expand our contribution to the DTB course ‘Shaping a Human’ (coordinated by Roelof-Jan Oostra at the Amsterdam University Medical Center AMC), while dropping the minimum amount of balls. We think.

28 October, 2022

Dutch chromatin meeting 2022

Marleen and Renée attended the 19th Dutch chromatin meeting in Leiden, where Marleen also presented a poster on our successful efforts to dissect the tissue-specific regulation of Wnt4 gene expression in the mammary gland.
Do not fear you missed it, Wnt aficionados, because the poster will soon be coming to the EMBO meeting on WNT signaling in Japan, where Marleen and Tanne will represent the lab and present their work.

As for the Dutch chromatin meeting: it was a day full of inspiring talks with plenty of opportunity to talk to old, new and we-met-on-Twitter faces. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the meeting and to celebrate that, it is returning to Amsterdam at the initiative of its founder, Maike Stam. Renée will co-organize this edition together with Maike Stam and Frank Jacobs. More on that in due time.

27 October, 2022

NWO wetenschapscommunicatie

Renée attended the NWO national science communication day in Den Haag (The Hague). While the plenary sessions (including a presentation by image sleuth and scientific integrity consultant Elisabeth Bik) and the breakout rooms were informative (including a working session on the newly formed/forming national center for science communication spearheaded by Alex Verkade and Ionica Smeets), the event was slightly overshadowed by the fact that Renée probably caught COVID there. We are all about cell to cell communication, but this is not what we had in mind.

10 October, 2022

Knowledge videos / Onderwijsvernieuwing

After wrapping up our Frontiers in Medical Biology wetlab practicals with the entire lab, Renée spent the remainder of the afternoon recording two "kennisclips" with Vincent Blum and Edwin van Lacum .

These kennisclips are short, (hopefully) informative videos that should help next year’s students prepare even better before getting to the lab. They should also come in handy now that the Frontiers track is offered as a Minor Biomedical Sciences, meaning that in addition to being the fundamental research track for our third year Biomedische Wetenschappen students, it is also an elective for other students from the Netherlands and abroad, who come in with a variety of backgrounds.

Our first two videos? Two classics! How to operate the fluorescence microscope and how to do an H&E staining. For extra pizazz and playfulness, we also shot some footage with a GoPro. Good luck to Edwin with editing the gazillion takes into something with decent continuity!

7 October, 2022

Weekend van de Wetenschap: De Melkfabriek

While the lab certainly does not have a shortage of outreach activities, this year we took part in the Science Park Open Day during the Weekend van de Wetenschap (Dutch National Weekend of Science) for the first time.

We joined forces with the lab of Aniko Korosi for the occasion, to talk to the general public about the dynamic beauty of breast development and lactation physiology (and of course we slipped in the occasional fun fact about hidden (whale), absent (platypus) or third (some celebrities) nipples on our poster.

The best part, however, was getting to share the joy of exploration and discovery with our visitors ranging from 4 to well over 40, as they got the opportunity to look at mammary gland tissue samples under the microscope. Steady traffic and interest for five straight hours!.

1 October, 2022

Coming up: Weekend van de Wetenschap and Poëzie onder de Microscoop

There are multiple opportunities for the general public to come meet us in October, so come and join us at one of the following events and ask us everything you have always wanted to ask a biologist (we may have partial answers to some of your questions).

On Saturday 1 October we will be at the Science Park Open Day as part of the national Science Weekend (Weekend van de Wetenschap). We are teaming up with the lab of Aniko Korosi for the occasion. So come to us with all your questions about molecules, cells and tissues - and in particular if you want to know how the mammary gland (a.k.a. the breast) grows and develops and ultimately produces milk (and what is in the milk).

Then on Tuesday 11 October, we return to Spui 25 for a reprise of our outreach event "poëzie onder de microscoop" (in Dutch). Our current artist-in-residence, Rosa Schogt, and Renee talk about the link between poetry and science and the language and images that scientists and artists use. Tanne will be moderating the evening.

Unfortunately the SPUI25 event had to be cancelled because too few people signed up for the evening. We are trying to reschedule the event at a later time.

21 September, 2022

Lab trip to Fabrique des Lumieres

In the last quiet week of summer, before the students are back on campus and the teaching starts, we went to the Westergasfabriek to visit the Klimt/Hundertwasser exhibit by Fabrique des Lumieres.

It was immersive and comes highly recommended with thumbs up from all of us. These few stills containing mammary glands really do not do the whole thing justice.

The weather was also still nice so we had a relaxing lunch outside to catch up on what we had been doing during our summer breaks.

1 September, 2022

Goodbye students

Spring passed quickly and updating the website did not get priority.
We did celebrate the arrival and goodbye of our students with drinks and lunches at De Polder, but their pictures never made it onto the website before the end of the academic year.

Luckily we did manage to take this pretty group picture at the end of March before the blossom fell out of the trees so we have a good record of the 2021-2022 cohort!

Thanks for all the exciting science and good times. We wish everyone the best as they continue on in their careers.

31 August, 2022

NWO XL grant awarded

This year saw multiple grant applications and just as many rejections. Despite what Renée told everyone, it turned out she was not yet dulled and the blows still hurt.

Luckily, the reverse also turned out to be true and Thijs and Renée were ecstatic to learn that after a pre-proposal, full proposal, solid interview prep and a stressful but not unpleasant in person interview (which Renée also attended in May), our NWO-XL consortium grant - together with Hendrik Marks (our tireless consortium coordinator and lead applicant from Nijmegen), Simon van Heeringen (also Nijmegen), Jop Kind (Hubrecht) and Tineke Lenstra (NKI) - has been granted.

This picture was taken when we heard the news but it was still under embargo. That called for a quick celebration before other events would dampen the excitement!

This means there is some very exciting embryonic development coming the way of our lab!
We will probably be hiring a new PhD student early in 2023.

Official UvA press release: click here.

Official summary (in Dutch, voor leken) from the NWO website:

30 July, 2022

Summertime journal club

Summer has arrived and the teaching semester is almost over. Time to switch gears and have journal club the way it must have been intended: outside, on a terras, with coffee/tea and apple pie.

6 July, 2022

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