Van Amerongen Lab                    Stem cell and Cancer Biology

Section of Molecular Cytology     -     Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences     -     University of Amsterdam
lab milestones    social    science    teaching    communication & outreach   


Thesis defense in Bilbao

Renee chaired the PhD thesis defense committee of Virginia Murillo, who did her PhD research with Dr. Robert Kypta at CIC bioGUNE in Bilbao. The defense took place at the University of the Basque country and ensured interesting scientific discussions about WNT11 and FZD8 and their role in prostate cancer.

Family and friends ensured that delicious local wine and home cooked dishes were available to celebrate after the defense, so it was both a scientific and culinary highlight. On top of that, it is nice to see the similarities and differences between PhD defenses in so many different countries and now Spain can be added to the list.

30 November, 2018

The lab turns 5

It is a little hard to believe that we can already celebrate our five year anniversary: Apparently time indeed flies when you are having fun (or when you do not stop to smell the roses).
Renée is very proud of the entire Wntlab, because together we have been able to set up an entire line of research at the University of Amsterdam from scratch. The first PhD thesis is going to be written and we are about to start profiting from some of our longer-term efforts and investments.

A thread with "5 things I learned as a PI" apparently struck a chord and gained some traction on Twitter. See if you agree by reading it here.

We celebrated small with some impromptu drinks (and a bit of cake and fireworks - very befitting of a 5-year old) and hope to get together for a reunion with all of our student alumni soon.

1 November, 2018

Wrapping up the Grassroots project

The computer game that was developed as part of the Grassroots project (awarded to Renee and Gooitzen Zwanenburg in the fall of 2017) was put to the test by the third year BSc students in the Frontiers in Medical Biology course.

Thanks to Abel Stam, the board game was shapeshifted into version 1.0 of a visual model of stem cell division in the intestinal crypt. It can already be used to illustrate principal concepts of stem cell biology. In the future, we hope to develop it into a version that can be used to essentially perform lineage tracing analyses in silico - thus mimicking an expensive and time consuming experiment that is normally performed in vivo.

16 October, 2018

Wnt meeting 2018 in Heidelberg

The entire lab travelled to Heidelberg, a beautiful old town in the south of Germany (its university was founded in 1386) for the European Wnt meeting 2018. It was organized by Michael Boutros, Thomas Holstein and Christof Niehrs on behalf of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1324 (which concentrates research on the mechanisms and functions of Wnt signaling).

The entire lab after the poster session on Thursday.

Renée gave a talk and the rest of the lab presented posters, which everybody got to pitch in front of the entire audience in a one-minute flash talk. As icing on the cake, Anoeska won one of the two poster prizes (sponsored by Nikon) for her poster on our new Axin2 lineage tracing/reporter model, which we hopefully will be able to share with the rest of the community soon.

Anoeska accepting her poster prize on Friday

The meeting was densely packed with people and (unpublished) data - starting at 9:00 in the morning with poster sessions running until well after 20:00 in the evenings. On top of that it was great to catch up with old friends, talk to new people and discuss all of the exciting research going on worldwide. Lots of efforts are ongoing to understand signaling specificity at the level of ligands and receptors, with new FZD crystal structures being solved and novel agonists and antagonists being developed in multiple labs. At the same time, it is clear that we still do not understand how either Wnt gene expression or the tissue specific responses to Wnt signaling are controlled at the molecular level - confirming that we are asking the right questions in our current research projects.

The conference chairs did an excellent job putting together the scientific and social program, which included a trip to the Pompeii inspired Schloss Villa Ludwigshöhe for Renée on the final day of the conference (one of the perks of being an invited speaker).
Hopefully everybody will arrive back in the lab fresh and inspired, with plenty of ideas for experiments or the writing of their thesis, new questions and an up-to-date view of knowledge gaps in the field!

For those who cannot wait until the next Wnt meeting: Mark your calendars for the 2019 GRC on Wnt signaling in Vermont (USA) and start saving for a trip in September 2020, when Akira Kikuchi will organize the Wnt meeting in Japan!

17 September, 2018

Visit to Basel

Renee visited Basel for a PhD committee meeting and a seminar. In addition to presenting some of our newest data that were really hot off the press, she also got the chance to talk to PhD students and postdocs in the lab of Momo Bentires-Alj. A busy program, but a day that was very well spent!

5 July, 2018

On display in de Volkskrant

Photographer Jos Jansen got much deserved attention in today’s Volkskrant (a national Dutch newspaper), which prominently featured his work, vision and ideas (you will find a link to the piece here).
We were happy to see our science featured as well. It is good to be reminded by others every now and then that Amsterdam Science Park is such an amazing playground. In September and October his work will also be on display at the international photography festival BredaPhoto. This year’s edition "To Infinity And Beyond" explores the impact of science on society.

4 July, 2018

Artist collaboration

Earlier this year, photographer Jos Jansen visited the lab in search of a piece of science that could be featured in his new art project. The result, a wonderful book called "Universe", is now available.

image compiled from screenshots taken at

Using images and text, Jos Jansen has managed to capture scientific exploration in all its alienating and intriguing beauty. The result offers an exciting glimpse into the world of physics, chemistry and biology. Our hard work in progress is featured in the section "Organisms".
So go ahead and buy yourself a coffee table, because this book deserves to be on it!

3 July, 2018

Developmental advocacy

Together with Roel Nusse, Katrin and Renee wrote a perspective on the role that curiosity driven, basic developmental biology research has played in unravelling the role of Wnt signaling. It came out in Development today as the first piece in a series that will be advocating developmental biology.

When we were invited to write this Primer, we were asked to do so with a single question in mind: "What has developmental biology ever done for us?" We were also asked to write a piece that would be accessible for undergraduates. For this reason, we decided to provide a historical perspective on how the Wnt signaling field took shape and to highlight, among others, developmental genetics in Drosophila and the concept of genetic epistasis analyses. We also draw parallels between observations made in flies and mice, to illustrate how research in very different fields ultimately gave rise to our current understanding of the Wnt pathway.
As we state in our Primer, we hope that after this first skinny dip, our young (and old!) readers will be keen to dive deeply into the wealth of beautiful Wnt literature and other model organisms that are out there. You can access our piece here.

26 June, 2018

2018 GRC on Mammary Gland Biology (2)

And here, as final proof that it all really happened and went well, is the GRC 2018 group photo with everybody who was awake and on time to make it to the 8:30 am photo opportunity.

9 June, 2018

2018 GRC on Mammary Gland Biology

Together with Christina Scheel (Munich, Germany), Renee organised and chaired the 2018 Gordon Research Conference on Mammary Gland Biology. A total of 155 scientists, including Katrin (who presented a poster on her work) gathered in beautiful Il Ciocco (Tuscany, Italy) to immerse themselves in all aspects of mammary gland development and function, ranging from branching morphogenesis to breast cancer heterogeneity and from in silico models to clinical trials with the latest targeted therapies.

The tone for an interactive meeting was set at the the GRS (organised and chaired by Johanna Wagner from Zurich, Switzerland), where PhD students and postdocs from the field gathered without their PIs to present their work. Together with Kara Britt (Melbourne, Australia) Christina and Renee had the honour of attending as guests and to take part in a mentoring workshop (chaired with great enthusiasm by Russ Hovey). We were blown away with the quality of the discussion during the GRS and luckily the junior scientists kept it up during the GRC by actively participating in the plenary discussion that followed each talk.

We are happy that so many of you enjoyed some of the newer and outside additions to the program, including the Power Hour (hosted by Maria Vivanco, which many felt should become a fixed part of the GRC program that focuses more on implicit bias and challenges in science than those faced by women per se), the one-minute poster flash talks and the off-program pathology workshop hosted by Tan Ince. We will be sure to communicate all of our findings and your feedback to GRC headquarters. Please note, that as a service to the community, the slides from Tan Ince’s pathology workshop can be downloaded from the ENBDC website.

It is exciting to see how much knowledge we have already gathered about mammary gland biology using creative and multidisciplinary apporaches. At the same time, it is sobering to realize how many fundamental questions about mammary gland morphogenesis, breast cancer and lactation biology still remain to be answered. There seems to be plenty of work left for a new generation of scientists. It is more important than ever that we advocate for sufficient funding for basic research and for sufficient career opportunities for the next generation of bright and inquisitive minds, many of whom expressed doubts about whether or not there would be a place for them in academia.

Renee now returns to the lab feeling both exhausted and satisfied. Thanks once again to Johanna Wagner for running a great GRS, and to our speakers, discussion leaders, poster presenters, microphone assistants, GRC site staff, sponsors and all attendees. It was both an honour and a great pleasure to chair this meeting. The only thing left to do now is wrap up our finances, write some reports to inform our sponsors and to leave behind an "How To..." information package for the future chairs.
Speaking of the future: The upcoming 2019 GRC will be chaired by Weston Porter and Kaylee Schwertfeger and will take place in the US. The chairs for the 2020 GRC were elected at the GRC last week, with the organization ending up in the capable hands of Maria Vivanco (Bilbao, Spain) and Beatrice Howard (London, UK). Good luck guys, it is a lot of work but well worth it!

2 June, 2018

Keeping up with the Planarians

You never would have guessed, but it turns out to be easier to regenerate a Planarian worm after cutting it into 8 pieces (yes, each of these pieces will grow a new head/tail/bodyplan) than it is to feed them (below, left).

After confirming the literature (which reports that they do not like tap or demi water - check) and establishing that they seem most happy in store bought mineral water (Spa Blauw) or diluted instant ocean sea salt (thanks to the aptly named Jan Wormmeester from the Education Service Centre for buying Renee a bag), Renee decided to stick to the latter.
The planarians seem to survive fine without feeding for quite a while, but they get increasingly smaller. Unfortunately, feeding them some hard boiled egg yolk is easier said than done. The first time (above, middle) they just circled it and avoided it like the plague. Granted, the egg may have been a bit runny and/or not the freshest... The second time (above, right) at least some of them appeared to feed, but the colony failed to thrive after.
Hopefully we were not shipped a batch of picky eaters, because the possibility of feeding them egg sure beats the alternative (mincing up some gourmet beef liver or meal worms)... If the worms survive Renee’s absence due to the upcoming GRC, the next attempt will probably involve grinding the egg yolk up into much smaller pieces and providing them with substantially less food at meal time.

15 May, 2018

Wntlab 2017 - 2018

We waited for a sunny spring day to snap a picture of the Wntlab.

From left to right: Marius, Roan, Yorick, Larissa, Anoeska, Katja, Nika, Renee, Saskia, Sanne, Katrin, Isabel and Amber.

25 April, 2018


We got some new critters in the lab as Renee is setting up a new Advanced Genomics practical together with Rob Dekker and Martijs Jonker. A jar of Planarians arrived on the 19th of April, which means it is time for some experimentation. The first challenge will be to determine which water they like, then to try and feed them some hard boiled egg yolk and, of course, to see whether they can regenerate in our hands.

Setting up experiments with a new species is no easy feat, but luckily there are some amazing resources out there to get us started. Dr. Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado (Stowers Institute, USA) has compiled a terrific educational resource ( and whenever Renee gets stuck, there is always Twitter!

20 April, 2018

Congratulations Anoeska

We can’t believe it has been four years already, but Anoeska has started writing up the results of her PhD thesis research. She will still be working in the lab part time, but will also slowly transfer into her new job as assistant manager at SILS.
Congratulations on this exciting new step. Make us proud!

1 April, 2018

10th ENBDC workshop in Weggis

Renee attended the annual methods workshop of the European Network for Breast Development and Cancer labs. Eva Gonzalez Suarez (IDIBELL, Spain) organised and chaired a superb 10-year anniversary meeting, which included oral and poster presentations by junior and established scientists. Renee found the talk by Charles Streuli on the interaction between the circadian clock and different cell types in the mammary gland particularly intriguing.

Unfortunately, Renee had to miss out on climbing mount Rigi. Instead, she spent a productive afternoon with Christina Scheel selecting abstracts for short talks for the upcoming 2018 GRC on mammary gland biology.

16 March, 2018

Welcome Marius and Roan

Marius and Roan have started their 5-month BSc internships under the direct supervision of Katrin and Yorick. With their arrival we are now at full capacity. The lab is bursting at the seams - so here’s to good times, lots of exciting data and a healthy dose of troubleshooting!

5 February, 2018

Welcome Larissa

On the 16th of January Larissa officially joined the lab as a new postdoc. She will be working on the recently awarded KWF project to resolve the role of Wnt signaling in breast cancer.
As a result of the many new people that have joined the lab (and the two additional students we are still expecting) our weekly Wntlab meeting has become too big for our standard meeting room, which means that we are now gathering in one of the lecture rooms in the faculty of science instead.

17 January, 2018

Welcome Isabel, Katja and Sanne

Three new MSc students have started their internships in the lab. Isabel joined Amber on the organoid project, Katja will be working with Nika on the VIDI project and Sanne will work together with Saskia on the functional imaging of Wnt signaling. Welcome to all!

15 January, 2018

Happy Holidays

From our lab to yours, a very merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.

May all of your experiments yield interesting results. May all of your troubleshooting and persistence be rewarded with pre-prints/theses/publications. May all your wishes be granted and your grants as well. May scientists speak to politicians and society and may society and politicians listen. May all your paperwork exist of reading papers at work. May you write the review you would want to receive.

24 December, 2017

GRC 2018 organisation update

A quick update with respect to the upcoming GRC for mammary gland biology, which Renee is organising together with Christina Scheel (Germany):

- Applications are now welcome via the GRC conference website. We expect to start selecting/accepting people from late January/early February onwards. Keep in mind that the maximum amount of attendees for this meeting is capped at 200.
- The preliminary program is finished: all but one of our speakers are confirmed, as are all discussion leaders/session chairs. We are still working on some aspects of the program, such as the Power Hour. For the first time, poster presenters will have the option of presenting their poster in a one minute flash talk on Monday right before lunch. The number of spots is limited to 30.

Fundraising for the conference is well underway, but about as difficult as all money-raising efforts these days. We are contacting various organisations, charities and companies/industry to reach our fundraising goal. In this respect, we are most happy to announce that the Amsterdams Universiteitsfonds will be supporting our conference with 10,000 euros. A huge thank you for this vital contribution to the mammary gland community and the fields of lactation biology and breast cancer research.

19 December, 2017

Permanent position for Amber

Most of the lab made it to dinner in De Polder to celebrate that Amber got a permanent position. This mean she can stay on as a technician in the group indefinitely: a very good reason to be happy and excited!

15 December, 2017

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