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Building a career in translational research: Dr Marnix Jansen, Clinician Scientist Fellow

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

8 August 2018

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Marnix Jansen


Dr Marnix Jansen completed his molecular genetics degree before starting his medical and specialty pathology training. By the time he applied to us for funding, Marnix had built up a unique skill set having collaborated with some of the best research groups working in stem cell research and Barrett’s oesophagus.

Marnix is at the “Developing independence” stage in our Fellowships Competency Framework, and here he explains how he demonstrated in his application the skills and experience we expect of researchers at this point in their careers. He also tells us how our Clinician Scientist Fellowship is allowing him to integrate clinical work with his research goals to find kinder treatments for patients with early stage oesophageal cancer.


Career stage: Developing independence

After finishing my PhD and pathology specialty training in the Netherlands, I came to the UK on a two-year junior fellowship funded by the Dutch Cancer Society.

During my clinical training in Amsterdam I collected a rare patient cohort, which formed the basis of my initial research here in the UK. I applied for a Clinician Scientist Fellowship with Cancer Research UK as it provided the right support for my clinical work and translational research. It’s really important to me that I can carry out clinical academic research in an environment such as UCL’s Cancer Institute, a CRUK research centre, where it’s easy to connect with other researchers who are involved in preclinical studies.

Research experience: Building up a body of work towards a bigger goal

In my fellowship application, I set out to demonstrate how my research over the years was part of an overarching narrative of early cancer diagnosis and reflected a bigger scientific hypothesis I was working towards.

During my pathology training, I made sure I got involved with ongoing research projects. In my application to CRUK, I was able to demonstrate that I had built up a portfolio of research outputs including patient cohorts and publications. 

Future research ambitions: Optimising early cancer detection programmes

During my interview, I was keen to pitch that my work would bring a new perspective to screening of patients with early stage oesophageal cancer – a cancer that, because of greater awareness and surveillance programmes, we’re now detecting more frequently. There are obvious benefits of early detection programmes to both patients and our healthcare system, but we will only reap those benefits if we can identify the few patients who actually benefit from intensive follow-up treatment after early cancer diagnosis.

In my team, we’re pursuing research that aims to reveal how stem cells evolve during oesophageal cancer progression, which may differ from patient to patient. We’re currently working on new diagnostic methods which five years from now could impact how we understand recurrence risk in patients with early cancer. It makes it a really exciting time to be carrying out this research in pathology.

Balancing academic and clinical commitments

At times it’s challenging to balance research and clinical commitments, but I understand the importance of the 20% of my time I give to the health service during my CRUK fellowship. It’s not just about keeping my medical license to practice; my clinical commitment also helps me to build my clinical cohorts, which of course feeds back into my research.

Skills: Gaining insight and inspiration from a mentor and other research groups

I learned a great deal from Sir Nick Wright, who mentored me during my first fellowship at Barts Cancer Institute. Nick is an exceptional mentor who has helped me understand the UK network and the unwritten rules of building a career in translational research.

Nick is a pathologist with a lifelong career in stem cell research and remains an inspiring role model, showing me that you can continue down this clinical academic route as a scientifically involved clinical researcher and at the same time run an active clinical agenda.

I’ve spent time in other research groups, and participated in public engagement and patient interaction events. Since my award, I’ve also improved my communication skills to relay the impact of our work to various audiences. I’ve also developed my skills in leading a research team.

I feel strongly that everyone in the group should understand how their work fits into the bigger picture and what the long-term goals of the lab are. I try to make sure my PhD students work on several projects at the same time, with one being a ‘stretch’ project.

I’m also much more entrepreneurial now. For example, when liaising with industry I understand how to pitch my research by discussing unmet needs, deliverables, outcomes and timelines.

Looking to the future

I’m a year and a half into this fellowship and I feel I now have a clear view of the results we are aiming to deliver. I think it is very important to have a long-term perspective and understand what the next steps are after a project. Having five years to develop your research during the fellowship gives you time to develop a direction in your career to really understand your research question and the broader context that drives it.

Through a CRUK Fellows’ networking meeting, I’ve formed a great collaboration with another CRUK Fellow, Yinyin Yuan, who leads the Computational Pathology and Integrative Genomics team at The Institute for Cancer Research. We’ve recently secured a CRUK Multidisciplinary Project Award to develop single cell resolution 3D-models of immune surveillance in cancer, and we’re currently discussing working together on another funding application, which we think could lead to a huge population health impact.

Career profile: Dr Marnix Jansen

2017–2021: CRUK Clinician Scientist Fellow, UCL Pathology
2013–2017: Fellow Dutch Cancer Society, Tumour Biology, Barts Cancer Institute
2013: Clinical Fellow, Pathology, National Cancer Centre, Tokyo
2008–2013: Resident, Pathology, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam
2008: PhD at Hubrecht Laboratory, University of Utrecht
2006: MD at Amsterdam Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam
2002: MSc degree in Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Biology, University of Amsterdam