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Wim Verhaegh

"It is not about trying to capture a bit of everything, but to be able to create a detailed description of the specific biology that is relevant to your question."

Wim Verhaegh, Principal scientist, Molecular Diagnostics, Philips Research
http://www.research.philips.com/index.html
Group size: 6 (in project team)

1. What is the leading research theme in your group?
"The bioinformatics work in the Molecular Diagnostics group focuses on modelling biological processes in order to interpret genetic and molecular data. My project is about modelling oncogenic pathways with the aim of developing predictive profiles, which can be used to predict whether an individual patient will respond to a certain drug. Our work is very much translational in nature; we want to use available genetic and molecular knowledge on cancer to develop tools that can immediately benefit patients. Although our work is applicable to many cancers, our main focus is on common cancer types, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer."

2. With what type of groups or organisations do you collaborate most and why?
"We have collaborations running with academic partners, for example the Hubrecht Institute which houses leading experts on cancer biology. Through NBIC, we work with bioinformatics groups, for example Marcel Reinders' group in Delft. Access to their hands-on expertise is very valuable to us. We also collaborate with groups in several university medical centres, either directly or through our participation in large-scale public-private partnerships, such as the Centre for Translational Molecular Medicine, CTMM. And finally, through our colleagues in other Philips Research Centres, for example in Briarcliff, New York, we have contacts with a number of US-based research groups."

3. From your research perspective, what are the main challenges in bioinformatics right now?
"To map all the biological knowledge that is stored in so many different places and organisations and capture it in mathematical models that allow a rational approach towards relevant scientific questions. It is not about trying to capture a bit of everything, but to be able to create a detailed description of the specific biology that is relevant to your question. It is easy to drown in the enormous amounts of data that are being generated and will be generated in the future. The only way to make sense of all this data is a targeted approach. Correlations and patterns are easily discovered, but you need a sound model of the biology to retrieve the data that is clinically relevant and allow for a meaningful interpretation."
 
4. What is the most important task of a group leader, or in your case a project leader?
"Clearly formulate the overall objective of the project and ensure that each team member knows what his or her required contribution is, so that we all work together to reach that common goal."

5. Where do you see room for improvement in your group?
"Our overall group consists of about 35 people, all working on different projects. Although we are all very much aware of the objectives of our group, it is always a challenge to take time to communicate on a cross-project level."