First author interview with Stijn Vanhee

I’m beyond proud of our recent paper in Science Immunology finally seeing the light. It was accepted almost exactly one year after our first rejection. Here is an interview with our first author Stijn Vanhee who was a postdoc in the lab from 2015 to 2019. Stijn has since moved on to the next chapter in his life as a sleep deprived new dad and senior postdoc. It has been a joy and privilege to work with him over the years and I look forward to following all the great science he will do at the VIB.

feeding that curiosity is what drove me forward.

Picture from Stijn’s (guy in white T shirt) farewell BBQ at BMC.

How would you explain the take home message of the paper to your grandmother?

When we are born, our immune system is not fully developed and there is a need to rapidly generate a fully functional immune system to protect against pathogens. We figured out a mechanism that allows antibody producing B cells to be made more rapidly during early life by lowering the stringency for quality control during B cell production. This finding was made in mice and is important for our understanding of how the complex immune system is formed.

Looking back at the paper and all the work that went into it, what part was your proudest accomplishment?

The thing I am most proud of is the collaborative effort that went into the paper. Several people were involved in the project over the years and we had many collaborators and people helping us out with methods or reagents. It was very nice to see all these efforts come together.

The biggest struggle?

Figuring out the mechanism by which Lin28b alters the stringency of B cell selection during early life, which took several attempts over several years. But we cracked it in the end 🙂

The project took longer than expected, but you were always committed to roll with the punches, answering the hard questions and not short selling the story. What was your mindset?

I think it was mainly my curious nature. Of course I sometimes got the feeling that it was never ending, especially when an experiment did not work or we could not figure out something. I did however want to find “the answer”; and for me, feeding that curiosity is what drove me forward.

What is your favorite figure panel?

I actually like a figure panel that does not stand out that much at first sight, panel 2G. It clearly shows how B cell selection is gradually altered with increasing age. The discovery that CD5 levels could already be discerned at the immature B cells stage in neonates or upon ectopic Lin28b expression in adult progenitors is what really made the puzzle come together.

Stijn’s favorite panel showing a developmental switch taking place during juvenile B cell maturation.

What are you doing now?

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the VIB-UGent Inflammation Research Center in Ghent; Belgium.

We miss you here at the DMH, what do you miss the most about life in Sweden?

Of course I miss all of my former colleagues at DMH! About Sweden itself, I mainly miss the nature; it was so nice to go for a hike in one of the national parks in the weekend.