Why we do research: interview Annique and Anne-Grete

Friends Annique and Anne-Grete interviewed each other to find out more about their research.

Annique Claringbould is a 4th year PhD student in the department of Genetics in UMC Groningen. Her research is focusing on genetic variation and analysing changes in gene regulation in complex diseases. I asked Annique what her usual day as a PhD student looks like. She told me as a genetic statistician she is mostly working on with data – writing code in R and figuring out ways how to work with “big data”. She said she knew this is what she would be doing as a PhD as she consciously chose a data-driven project for her PhD and she felt it would be much more versatile than working at a lab bench.  

I wondered if Annique always knew she was going to become a researcher. Annique: “In the beginning of my studies I did not think so, however towards the end I was certainly considering it. I was always interested in biology (Annique did her BSc in University of Utrecht studying Liberal Arts and Science with a major in Biology) and I like how genetics act as a blueprint of your life – lots of information is registered in our genes.” 

What will the future hold for both Annique and her research? This research will potentially have two implementations – finding new drug targets and discovering how genetics influences the medications people take (pharmacogenetics). Annique herself feels that she would like to continue with research after her PhD. “I really like this type of research and I feel it is intellectually challenging. I have developed a skillset I can use for different kind of experiments.”

PhD students Annique and Anne-Grete

PhD students Annique and Anne-Grete

Anne-Grete Märtson is a Clinical pharmacology PhD student at the UMC Groningen. After studying and working as a clinical pharmacist in Estonia, Anne-Grete decided to investigate the effects of certain prescription drugs in detail. “After a drug has been approved, there is a lack of follow-up research on the exposure of such medication”, she says. 

Although she no longer sees patients in her current research, she still uses patient data to build so-called pharmacokinetic models to predict how a patient will react to a certain drug. In a sense, patients are still her main motivation: “what excites me most is when our guidelines or models are implemented and have a real effect on patients’ lives.” One of the models she has built is already on the way to being used within the UMCG, and another multi-center study on antiviral medication is in the works.

When I ask her if she has ever considered running clinical trials on new drugs, she tells me there is still much to gain in medication that is already in the market. As it turns out, dosages and details are often not optimized for the patient group at hand. Anne-Grete: “Lot of medication is brought into the market after a few trials, with sometimes lacking knowledge on their effects. As soon as the central medication agencies approve the medication, the research often does not continue at the same pace, and that’s where I think we can make big improvements.”

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