Eva van Rooij

LAUREATE Biomedical Sciences 2017

Eva van Rooij

Eva van Rooij (1977) studied Health Sciences in Maastricht and was awarded her PhD by the University Hospital of Maastricht for her research into molecular signals in cardiac cells. As a postdoctoral researcher she moved to Dallas, where she made her key discovery at the University of Texas. She was also closely involved in the creation of miRagen, a biopharmaceutical company in Colorado.

In 2013 she moved back to the Netherlands to head up a research group at the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht. Two years later the UMC Utrecht appointed her Professor of Molecular Cardiology.

Van Rooij has already raised more than five million euros for cardiological research, two million of which came in the form of a prestigious Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council.

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Eva van Rooij researches molecular mechanisms behind the sometimes fatal disorder of cells in our hearts.

Molecular breaks in the heart

Over the last twenty years much has been learned about how various molecules affect cells in our bodies. It has become clear that genes and DNA are by no means the only ones calling the shots. All kinds of small RNA-molecules, referred to as microRNAs, are able to suppress, reduce or enhance the operation of our genes.

During her time at the University of Texas, Eva van Rooij was the first person to demonstrate that microRNAs also play a large role in the thickening of the heart muscle – a condition that often leads to a total, often fatal, heart failure.

Her discovery opened a new area for research worldwide. It was also the stimulus for the foundation of a US startup company that wants to use microRNAs to fight diseases with new medicines. Van Rooij played a key role in that company for six years and her name is on many patents. Despite this, she returned to the Netherlands in 2013 to focus once again on fundamental scientific research.

With her own research group in Utrecht, Van Rooij now delves further into molecular mechanisms in the cells of the heart. She looks at how and why cells become disorganized, and how we might counter this. Eventually she hopes to discover whether it will be possible to make special stem cells which could heal already damaged cardiac cells.