Ewout Groen Q & A

Everybody, meet Ewout Groen. Ewout was recently awarded a prestigious Wellcome Trust Fellowship for early career researchers. He is using his Fellowship to better understand the motor neuron susceptibility observed in SMA, and to identify possible ways to treat the disease.

When and why did you first decide you wanted to be a scientist?

My dad is a consultant doctor at a hospital in the Netherlands, and I therefore grew up hearing a lot about what it is like to work as a clinician. Although I do find medicine-related topics fascinating, this meant that I was not particularly keen to work in the clinic myself. From there, on it was a relatively small step to decide to take on a degree in biomedical sciences and focus on the research side of medicine instead.

How did you come to work on SMA?

Most of my past research experience is related to another type of motor neuron disease, adult-onset disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as motor neurone disease). I found that there is perhaps some overlap in the mechanisms that cause ALS and SMA, which is interesting considering the same type of cell is affected in both diseases (the motor neuron). With the clinical testing of several therapies currently underway, I think now is a very exciting time to be working on SMA. I was therefore very happy to obtain a position in the lab of Prof. Gillingwater at the University of Edinburgh, which provides me with excellent facilities to focus my research on SMA.

What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?

I very much like cycling and I think it would be great to have my own bike shop and workshop. I think it would be great to be able to spend my time selecting, selling and doing maintenance on the latest and greatest bicycles.

If you are not in the lab, you are...?

Cycling (😊), many music-related things (listening to it, going to concerts, collecting vinyl records, playing the piano) reading and/or enjoying good food and wine.

Describe yourself in three words.

Hard working, helpful, and conscientious.

What has been the most important moment of your career so far?

I was very lucky to obtain a research fellowship from the Wellcome Trust at the end of last year (2014). The fellowship allows me to fund my own research for several years and thereby enables me to do the kind of research that I am most interested in.

What is your most memorable finding relating to SMA?

Earlier research that I have done shows that potentially disease mechanisms exist that are shared between different kinds of motor neuron disease. I think that this is a very promising path to continue research on, because it could mean that novel therapeutic strategies that are developed for one disease might also be useful to others. This kind of approach could accelerate the discovery of new treatment strategies for motor neuron diseases in general.

What is your favourite conference location?

I have had the opportunity to attend some meetings in Italy; the wonderful weather, food and coffee generally makes any place in Italy highly enjoyable for conferences and meetings (and holidays and other visits and any reason to go to Italy is generally a good one I think!)

What is the best scientific advice you ever received?

To always keep doing what you really like. Probably not just a good piece of scientific advice; if you do what you really like, you will never need to search for motivation to do it and work hard for it.

If you could start your career all over again, are there things you would do differently?

My career hasn’t gone on for very long and so far, I have been very lucky to work in labs with talented colleagues and inspiring mentors. I am very curious about how I will answer this question in 10 years’ time.

In your opinion, what makes a good scientist?

I think that what makes a good scientist involves a very interesting combination of hard work, creativity and a good bit of patience. Next to that, if you also want to obtain very interesting results with the science that you do, I think that you also require a fair bit of luck 😊

Where do you see the SMA research field in the next 10 years?

The current clinical trials that are under way in the United States will provide invaluable insights in what makes a good therapy for SMA. With the knowledge the scientific community gains from these current studies I am sure that in the coming 10 years it will be possible to further develop and optimise these and novel therapeutic approaches with the ultimate aim of finally developing effective therapies for SMA.