The only Master’s specialisation in the Netherlands covering the function of our epigenome, a key factor in regulating gene expression and in a wide range of diseases.
Our skin cells, liver cells and blood cells all contain the same genetic information. Yet these are different types of cells, each performing their own specific tasks. How is this possible? The explanation lies in the epigenome: a heritable, cell-type specific set of chromosomal modifications, which regulates gene expression. Radboud University is specialised in studying the epigenome and is the only university in the Netherlands to offer a Master’s programme in this field of research.
The epigenome consists of small and reversible chemical modifications of the DNA or histone proteins, such as methylation, acetylation and phosphorylation. It changes the spatial structure of DNA, resulting in gene activation or repression. These processes are crucial for our health and also play a role in many diseases, like autoimmune diseases, cancer and neurological disorders. As opposed to modifications of the genome sequence itself, epigenetic modifications are reversible. You can therefore imagine the great potential of drugs that target epigenetic enzymes, so-called epi-drugs.
In this specialisation, you’ll look at a cell as one big and complex system. You’ll study epigenetic mechanisms during development and disease from different angles. This includes studying DNA and RNA by next-generation sequencing (epigenomics) and analysing proteins by mass spectrometry (proteomics). In addition, you‘ll be trained to design computational strategies that allow the integration of these multifaceted, high-throughput data sets into one system.
- Radboud University combines various state-of-the-art technologies – such as quantitative mass spectrometry and next-generation DNA sequencing – with downstream bioinformatics analyses in one department. This is unique in Europe.
- This programme allows you to work with researchers from the Radboud Institute for Molecular Life sciences (RIMLS), one of the leading multidisciplinary research institutes within this field of study worldwide.
- We have close contacts with high-profile medically oriented groups on the Radboud campus and with international institutes (EMBL, Max-Planck, Marie Curie, Cambridge, US-based labs, etc). As a Master’s student, you can choose to perform an internship in one of these related departments.
- Radboud University coordinates BLUEPRINT, a 30 million Euro European project focusing on the epigenomics of leukaemia. Master’s students have the opportunity to participate in this project.
As a Master’s student of Medical Epigenomics you’re trained in using state-of-the art technology in combination with biological software tools to study complete networks in cells in an unbiased manner. For example, you’ll know how to study the effects of drugs in the human body.
When you enter the job market, you’ll have:
- A thorough background of epigenetic mechanisms in health and disease, which is highly relevant in strongly rising field of epi-drug development
- Extensive and partly hands-on experience in state-of-the-art ‘omics’ technologies: next-generation sequencing, quantitative mass spectrometry and single cell technologies;
- Extensive expertise in designing, executing and interpreting scientific experiments in data-driven research;
- The computational skills needed to analyse large ‘omics’ datasets.
With this background, you can become a researcher at a:
- University or research institute;
- Pharmaceutical company, such as Synthon or Johnson & Johnson;
- Food company, like Danone or Unilever;
- Start-up company making use of -omics technology.
Apart from research into genomics and epigenomics, you could also work on topics such as miniaturising workflows, improving experimental devices, the interface between biology and informatics, medicine from a systems approach.
Or you can become a:
- Biological or medical consultant;
- Biology teacher;
- Policy coordinator, regarding genetic or medical issues;
- Patent attorney;
- Clinical research associate;
Each year, the Molecular Biology department (Prof. Henk Stunnenberg, Prof. Michiel Vermeulen) and the Molecular Developmental Biology department (Prof. Gert-Jan Veenstra) at the RIMLS offer between five and ten PhD positions. Of course, many graduates also apply for a PhD position at related departments in the Netherlands, or abroad.
- Systems biology
In the Medical Epigenomics specialisation you won’t zoom in on only one particular gene, protein or signalling pathway. Instead, you’ll regard the cell as one complete system. This comprehensive view allows you to, for example, model the impact of one particular epigenetic mutation on various parts and functions of the cell, or study the effects of a drug in an unbiased manner. One of the challenges of this systems biology approach is the processing and integration of large amounts of data. That’s why you’ll also be trained in computational biology. Once graduated, this will be a great advantage: you’ll be able to bridge the gap between biology, technology and informatics , and thus have a profile that is desperately needed in modern, data-driven biology.
- Multiple OMICS approaches
Studying cells in a systems biology approach means connecting processes at the level of the genome (genomics), epigenome (epigenomics), transcriptome (transcriptomics), proteome (proteomics), etc. In the Medical Epigenomics specialisation, you’ll get acquainted with all these different fields of study.
- Patient and animal samples
Numerous genetic diseases are not caused by genetic mutations, but by epigenetic mutations that influence the structure and function of chromatin. Think of:
- Autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
- Cancer, in the forms of leukaemia, colon cancer, prostate cancer and cervical cancer
- Neurological disorders, like Rett Syndrome, Alzheimer, Parkinson, Multiple Sclerosis, schizophrenia and autism
We investigate these diseases on a cellular level, focusing on the epigenetic mutations and the impact on various pathways in the cell. You’ll get the chance to participate in that research, and work with embryonic stem cell, patient, Xenopus or zebra fish samples.
See the website http://www.ru.nl/masters/medicalbiology/epigenomics
Bioinformatics is a new scientific discipline with roots in computer science, statistics and molecular biology. It was developed to cope with the output of genome sequencing initiatives, that result in an ever-increasing amount of data available about DNA (public databases currently contain over 100 Gigabases of DNA), RNA and derived proteins. Bioinformaticians apply information technology to store, retrieve and manipulate these data and employ statistical methods capable of analysing large amounts of biological data to predict gene functions and to demonstrate the relationship between genes and proteins.
There is a world-wide lack in trained Bioinformaticians resulting in long lists of positions that remain open. Some years ago Wageningen University in the Netherlands started with one of the first fully dedicated MSc curricula in Bioinformatics. Graduates are already in high demand both in industry and in academic research including medical sciences.
On the programme of Bioinformatics page you can find the general outline of the programme and more detailed information about courses, theses and internships.
Depending on the candidate's skills and interest advanced courses in 3D protein modelling, genome annotation or in software design can be taken. The last part of the programme consists of a Bioinformatics thesis period of 6 months. Typical thesis projects include genome annotation, design and testing of mutant proteins, and development of new algorithms to facilitate protein domain recognition. The programme commences annually in September and February.
Bioinformatics is a new fast growing field of research poorly served by traditional curricula in Life Sciences. As the demand has outpaced the supply of bioinformaticians the first job after graduation is often a PhD project at a research institute or at an University in or outside the Netherlands. Read more about career perspectives and opportunities after finishing the programme.