The European Vision Institute congratulates Ronald to this prestigious award.
Ronald Roepman is a group leader in the Division of Molecular Genetics at the Department of Human Genetics since 2002. His group is studying the functional basis of inherited retinal degenerations using a functional genomics approach.
Ronald Roepman started his scientific career in the late nineties concerning the identification and functional analysis of the most frequently mutated X-linked RP gene, RPGR. He employed an impressive number of different techniques and strategies to identify this important retinal disease gene. This achievement was not fully visualized in the resulting publications (Roepman et al. 1996a,b Human Molecular Genetics), as the relevant papers were submitted a few weeks after competing papers. Nevertheless, his results were impressive as he took up the challenge to identify a gene that had been elusive since the initial linkage studies of X-linked RP by S. Bhattacharya in 1984 up to his PhD project start in 1994. In two years time, he was able to identify the RPGR/X-linked RP3 gene using meticulous molecular genetic studies which included a novel microdeletion screening method based on Yeast artificial chromosome (YAC)-derived fragments and cosmid library constructions from YACs spanning the RP3 critical region.
Dr. Roepman specialized in functional genomics techniques such as yeast-two hybrid screening and other protein-protein interaction studies. To further develop his skills, he performed a guest-fellowship with dr. Paulo Ferreira in Milwaukee. These studies enabled him to identify RPGRIP1 as an interactor of RPGR (Roepman et al. 2000); RPGRIP1 was later found to be mutated in patients with LCA. He expanded the photoreceptor ciliary protein network with the finding that RPGRIP1 interacted with NPHP4, mutated in nephronophthisis. Through his collaborations with many colleagues, both local and international, he developed into an expert of ciliary protein networks. This expertise culminated in two key Nature Genetic papers in which he was the senior author (den Hollander et al. 2007; Arts et al. 2007).
In the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, he was recently elected principal investigator, an honor that is restricted to a highly selective group of researchers. All his activities will have a large and long-term impact on our knowledge concerning ciliopathies implicating the eye, the kidney, and many other organs such as the brain (see e.g. Coene et al. 2009).
Question 1: What was your first reaction, when you realized that you are the winner of the European Vision Award 2010?
I was pleasantly surprised and honoured, realizing that my research efforts have been positively recognized by the European vision research community.
Question 2: What was the important position of points for your own research career?
That’s a difficult one to answer, because every day there are decisions to make that can carry their effect for a long time. My current career however wouldn’t have existed without the continuous support of Frans Cremers, the winner of the first European Vision Award. He recruited me to the Nijmegen team in 1994, started as my Ph.D. supervisor together with Wolfgang Berger, and kept supporting my ideas to gain functional knowledge of retinal proteins by first dissecting their interacting repertoire in the retina. This switch of focus (from genetics to functional genomics) lead to a temporary drop in publication output, which could have ended my career right there. Frans however noticed all the progress my group was making and generously included me in his grant initiatives, knowing what it takes to survive as an independent PI. Also, he kept supporting my position as junior group leader in our organization. Eventually, the investment paid off when our research lifted off. I am still very glad we interact on a regular basis within our department, and this often results in valuable research ideas. Winning this award three years after Frans shows that our research in Nijmegen is indeed making a difference.
Question 3: What are your research priorities for the next five years?
In the next five years, the recently awarded SYSCILIA FP7 project will more or less rule the research in my lab. This is a large scale integrated project in which we will take a systems biology approach to study cilia and ciliopathies. I am quite proud to coordinate this project together with my closest collaborator, Marius Ueffing, who is now (mostly) in Tuebingen. We have managed to recruit a multidisciplinary group of top scientists to study all aspects of cilia in health and disease, in order to develop bioinformatic models on different levels. Our efforts of the last 10 years in dissecting the retinal protein network now provides the conceptual basis of this project. This unique consortium allows us to switch to a higher gear and really move towards in depth knowledge of the ciliary pathways and associated disease mechanisms. We anticipate that this eventually will also lead to novel opportunities to treat (retinal) ciliopathies.
Question 4: What is the strategy in your research group to promote young promising scientists?
I think that it is important that talented young scientists are allowed the freedom to make their own choices and develop a unique research profile which eventually allows them to apply for funding. I then see it as my task to guide them in shaping these choices into a format that is compatible with our academic environment. Importantly, I have to provide them with my continuous support whenever that’s required. The only condition is that they have to be fully motivated to “go for it”, and are prepared to go the extra mile whenever that’s needed. So indeed, I can only promote them, they still have to take matters into their own hands.
Question 5: Dr. Roepman, the fairy godmother gives you three wishes for free. Would you tell us these three wishes?
Of course, when there are no further rules in this fairy tale, the most beneficial first wish would be to raise the number three to infinity... Like most people, I would then wish for world peace, a cure for all diseases, and an end to all suffering. On a smaller scale, I would already be glad if I’m allowed many more happy moments with everyone that’s close to me. And of course many successes in Vision research...
Thank you for the interview.
The European Vision Institute European Economic Interest Grouping (EVI EEIG’) was legally constituted under European law in the late year 2003. The major objectives of EVI are to encourage cross-border cooperation in Vision Research with special emphasis on supporting research, training, health information, dissemination and other programs in the areas of blinding eye diseases, visual disorders, mechanisms of visual function, preservation of sight as well as the special health problems and requirements of the blind and visually disabled.
The members of EVI are vision scientists, research institutes/institutions, universities, private companies and patient organisations. At present, the chairman is Prof. E. Zrenner, Germany, who is supported by the Steering Committee, consisting of Profs. J. Cunha-Vaz, Portugal, P. Luthert, UK, J. Sahel, France, A. Wenzel, Switzerland and N. Pfeiffer, Germany. The Board of Trustees is formed by the Profs. C. Reme, Switzerland, T. van Veen, Sweden and E. Luetjen-Drecoll from Germany.
EVI was not formed for the purpose of making profits for itself. Its function is to carry out activities ancillary to those of its members, including but not restricted to research, technological development, organisation, management, fundraising and publicity pertinent to the defined aims to safeguard the procedures for high-quality Vision Research throughout Europe and worldwide.
For more information about the European Vision Award, please visit the website of the European Vision Institute EEIG: www.europeanvisioninstitute.org
Department of Human Genetics,
Nijmegen Centre for Molecular Life Sciences and Institute for Genetic and Metabolic Disease
PO Box 9101
6500 HB Nijmegen