6500 kilometer fietsen met een peuter

De researcher

Een interview met Daniel Chesik, najaar 2009.

A self-organized initiative like this one is aimed to create funding for research in order to find a solution to multiple sclerosis. This project requires a large degree of resourcefulness and entrepreneurship which I feel deserves much respect. People with MS and family members of persons with MS determine (consciously or not) how they will deal with this disease and the new situation it brings upon them. With positive energy, inventive projects such as this one can evolve and ultimately contribute toward our understanding of MS and, hopefully, offer beneficial treatment strategies. Personally, I am honored that my research at the University Medical Center Groningen is to become target of this initiative.

About myself
I was born in 1968 in Detroit Michigan, USA. Unlike Santiago de Compostela, no one has ever performed a pilgrimage to Detroit. A place like Detroit seems to cause a pilgrimage in reverse, since over the last 30 years approximately 1 million have left the difficult life of this 3rd world city. I was not an exception. At the age of 18 I left home with no particular plan, only the desire to drastically change my surroundings. I arranged a passport, purchased a backpack and a one-way ticket to Europe. From an American perspective, Paris seemed like the most exotic place to begin. The next few years, I was backpacking around Europe and Asia. I worked at odd jobs (fruit harvests, youth hostels) and met many people. I was young and trying to figure out how the world works and what I wanted my life to look like. Along the way, I met several persons who have greatly influenced my life, luckily in a positive sense (now that I think about it, this actually has never really changed!). I eventually settled down in the city of Bremen Germany, where I learned German, continued working odd jobs and began studying cellular and molecular biology at the University of Bremen. Unknowingly at the time, I began to focus on what was to become my new found passion, cell biology! Considering my previous life, I would have never guessed that cell biology should eventually become my field of expertise. I realize that cell biology may not sound interesting to many people, it is very abstract. However, I believe that anybody who has personally invested energy into a project that is important to them, no matter how abstract, ultimately becomes fascinated by it. During my studies, I acquired the theoretical and technical laboratory skills to scientifically conduct research in order to understand underlying mechanisms of cell behavior. In Bremen, I completed my Bachelors and Masters Degree on the subject of growth factors and their medical application for tissue repair.

Multiple Sclerosis Research Group UMCG
I was particularly interested in the field of Neuroscience. I knew about the Multiple Sclerosis research group of Prof. Jacques De Keyser and I applied for a position in his team as a PhD student. Under Prof. De Keyser’s supervision, my new project was to investigate the use of the insulin-like growth factor in treating MS lesions. The concept behind this investigation is to target this growth factor to oligodendrocytes, the cells that create myelin which is essential for neuronal functions. By successfully stimulating these cells to make new myelin we hope to achieve repair of damaged tissue (lesions) caused by the immune response during a relapse in MS. The first period of my research involved setting up the experimental design and how to force the oligodendrocytes to behave as I wish them to. I was thrilled to find that many of my experiments were successful and I was able to publish several articles on this subject in scientific journals.

In 2004, I obtained my PhD and have been working as a post-doctoral investigator in the group of Jacques De Keyser for the past 5 years. My responsibilities in these past few years have been expanding, I am now writing grants to support my research, setting up collaborations and training students for research in this field. Things are going quite well and I am still grateful for my position here at the UMCG and to be busy with such a rewarding project.

The progress we are making in this field is quite fascinating, but I must admit, it is still painfully slow. One of the reasons for this is that it is difficult to detect things we can’t see. Cell biologists do this by detecting things indirectly. We strive to receive a signal from cells and tissues and attempt to correctly describe the interactions we are observing. The cells inside our body are incredibly small and difficult to investigate and if a cell could talk, it would say that the molecules inside it are incredibly small and difficult to study. The science we are performing here at the UMCG goes into a depth which is breathtaking but difficult. Many large groups are working in collaboration with other large groups and are investing large sums of funding to investigate interesting models of MS. However, only after several years of research with many people can results be obtained and still it must be determined whether the investigation had any relevance at all for the disease.

European Meeting in Paris
In September 2009, I attended the European Meeting on Glial Cells in Health and Disease which was in Paris, France. During this 5 day meeting presentations were given concerning the most recent advances in this field of neuroscience. Researchers from the entire world were there to present their data, much data was directly related to MS and all of the presentations were important to this field. I had the chance to interact with key researchers who have been in this field before I was born and follow the progress they have been making over the years. In the years of scientific discovery, many routes have been followed, yet no definite cures for MS have been discovered. Our science, it seems, is a bit unpredictable.

Later, one evening in Paris after the presentations, I couldn’t help but to return to a place in a park of Paris where I had slept one night when I was 18. I compared my past and present situation. Life, it seems, is also a bit unpredictable.

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