What is your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Manon Peeters and I am Dutch. Approximately one and a half year ago I started my PhD trajectory in Dr. Rob Collin’s group at the Human Genetics department here in the Radboudumc.
What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
My PhD project focuses on Central areolar choroidal dystrophy (CACD), which is an inherited retinal disease. CACD causes atrophy of the light sensitive cells in the retina, often leading to complete blindness between the fifth and seventh decade of life.
CACD is predominantly caused by autosomal dominant mutations in PRPH2. In the Netherlands, the disease is associated with a specific founder mutation within this gene. Interestingly, reduced penetrance is observed, meaning that age-matched family members significantly differ in the level phenotype severity.
In this project we will unravel the molecular pathophysiology by which PRPH2 mutations are able to cause CACD by using both the induced pluripotent stem cell technology and state of the art molecular techniques. Additionally, patient-derived material is used to unravel the molecular mechanisms by which the observed reduced penetrance might be caused. Finally, therapeutic strategies, including antisense oligonucleotide and CRISPR-cas9 based approaches will be developed, which in the future will hopefully cure this blinding disorder.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
Already from early childhood, I am fascinated by science and the medical world, and for that reason I wanted to become a medical doctor. Only when in university, I noticed that I was more attracted to the molecular mechanisms by which certain diseases develop, and decided to go into academic research. Funny that I still become a doctor, although one that performs PCR instead of CPR.
What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
In 2016, I obtained my bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences with the specialization in molecular life sciences at Maastricht university. In 2019, I obtained my master’s degree in Medical Biology with the specialization in Clinical biology. During my master’s, and especially during my research internships, I became truly fascinated by genetics and inherited disorders. For this reason, I decided to join Dr. Rob Collin’s group at the Human Genetics department as a PhD candidate.
What excites you about working in science?
As mentioned in the 3rd question, I loved science already from a very young age. I was always fascinated (and still am) about the unknown. I really like to know why, and how exactly things work. Science is all around us and it allows you to be ambitious and stretching yourself to ask questions. In science, there is never ever a straight forward question, and on top of that, you will never run out of questions, since every answer you will get, gives rise to new questions. As a person who likes to puzzle and delve into the unknown, I try to find answers by bridging obtained results and previously obtained knowledge, and finding such answers feels truly satisfying.
Apart from this, science allows you to connect with people from various disciplines and backgrounds. I met so many amazing and talented scientists which always gives me a lot of additional energy and even more motivation to find answers to my own research questions.
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
PhD candidates face a lot of challenges! My biggest challenge is that I find it hard to fail, mainly due to my perfectionism. I still need to learn that failing experiments are part of the job. Especially in the beginning, it was hard for me to plan the experiments in an efficient way since I tended to plan a lot in one day. With help of my supervisor this is much better now. Finally I still find it hard to keep the work-life balance. Even when I am at home after a long work day, I find it hard to relax and not think about the next day. Lately, I came to realize that when I relax after work (better work-life balance), I am the most productive at work.
Who inspires you the most and why?
I don’t have one particular person who inspires me. I get inspired from people that truly excel in their jobs without becoming presumptuous, and especially the ones that take time to transfer the knowledge to others in an understandable and fun way.
What is your favourite book and why?
I have read quit some books that I liked a lot! One of my favourite book is a Dutch book which is called “Hersenschimmen”. This book is about an elderly couple, and the husband starts to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. What I liked the most was the way of writing. You tend to lose your memory together with the main character. Additionally, a lot of metaphors were used explaining how Alzheimer’s affects a patient’s life as well as the life of their loved ones.
What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
I want to share a part of a song called “it all ends well” from Alter Bridge, a band that inspires and motivates me with their lyrics:
“Somewhere down the road your stars will show
Somewhere down the road you’re almost home
If you believe in nothing else
Just keep believing in yourself
There will be times of trouble,
It’s gonna hurt like hell
This much I know, all ends well
It all ends well”
Your PhD is a journey with a lot of ups but also downs. Whenever you have a hard time during this journey, or feel like you fail, always remember to believe in yourself. It always is getting better and making mistakes does not necessarily mean you fail. The nature of research is such that things will not always go according to plan; this does not say anything about you as a student. You will learn from both failures and accomplishments. Everything will end well, as long as you believe in yourself.
What are you looking forward to in life?
First of all I want to finish my PhD successfully and, with that, contribute to the knowledge of the molecular pathophysiology of inherited (retinal) diseases which hopefully leads to the development of therapeutic strategies to cure these kind of pathologies. Furthermore I have an amazing boyfriend who is caring, supports me with everything I do, and is always there for me when work or life gets hard. I really look forward sharing my life with him and I am thankful he is part of both my scientific as well as my personal journey.