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PROFILE: Early-Stage Researchers Advancing Insights in TTP Through a Unique PhD Track

Vanhoorelbeke, Karen; Velàsquez Pereira, Carolina; Kangro, Kadri; Graça, Nuno A.G.

doi: 10.1097/HS9.0000000000000022

Laboratory for Thrombosis Research, IRF Life Sciences, KU Leuven Campus Kulak Kortrijk, Kortrijk, Belgium

Correspondence: Karen Vanhoorelbeke (e-mail:

Citation: Vanhoorelbeke K, Velàsquez Pereira C, Kangro K, Graça NAG. PROFILE: early-stage researchers advancing insights in TTP through a unique PhD track. HemaSphere, 2018;2:1.

Funding/support: This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 675746.

The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially without permission from the journal.

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Introduction by Karen Vanhoorelbeke, PROFILE Coordinator

The PROFILE project ( is funded as Innovative Training Network within the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions program. Its primary focus is on fine tuning the diagnosis of patients suffering from acquired thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) through immunoprofiling.

The project kicked off in October 2015, and groups top experts from across Europe: academic researchers (Prof Karen Vanhoorelbeke, KU Leuven, Belgium; Prof Jan Voorberg, Sanquin, The Netherlands), clinical academic centers (Prof Paul Coppo and Prof Agnès Veyradier, Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, France), industrial partners (Dr Andres Männik, Icosagen, Estonia; Dr Kaia Palm, Protobios, Estonia; Dr Liselotte Brix, Immudex, Denmark; and Dr Marta Palicio, Biokit, Spain), and nonprofit organizations (Dr Rob Fijnheer, TTP Contact group, The Netherlands; Robin Doeswijk, European Hematology Association) (Fig. 1). Coordination is handled by Prof Vanhoorelbeke, based at KU Leuven's Kortrijk campus (Fig. 2).





In this consortium, 6 early-stage researchers (ESR) were recruited to embark on a unique PhD track, consisting of 5 learning paths. Besides receiving thematic training and performing research tasks in both academic labs and industry, all students have received front-line clinical training by Prof Veyradier and Prof Coppo at Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris. In addition, a translational training program has been developed by Dr Nick Geukens, the PROFILE training manager, in which ESR are learning to deal with challenges linked to the development of new diagnostics or therapeutics.

On top of this, the students are trained in management, business, ethical, legal, career development, and personal skills. To that end, numerous network wide events with top invited lectures are organized within PROFILE. In October 2017, we organized the first edition of the Entrepreneurial Innovation Bootcamp on Rare Diseases in Leuven. More than 20 experts from research, clinical, industry, and policy shared their insights on breakthroughs and hurdles in innovation across the broad spectrum of rare diseases.

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“With what expectations did you enter the project?”

Q&A with early-stage researchers Carolina Velàsquez Pereira, Kadri Kangro and Nuno A.G. Graça

The project is interesting due to the industry–academia fusion. We expected for a solid “4 × 4” formation in a translational research project that could yield more than knowledge. Of course, we expected the project to involve a lot of traveling, due to work being done in different laboratories. We will be able to come into contact with both patients and companies, a unique experience! It is a great opportunity to be part of an interdisciplinary team, to share experiences, and to improve language and expression skills as well, while building a network of connections, important and necessary in science.

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“How have you experienced it so far?”

We have had the chance to work in several European countries. Our scientific and presentation skills have improved, and networks have expanded. We received a clinical training by experts in patient management at the Public Hospitals of Paris. It was a privilege to see firsthand the day-to-day activities of doctors diagnosing and treating TTP patients, to come into direct contact with some of the patients and witness their fears, hopes, and expectations. This is vital in shaping the perspective of the laboratory research being conducted.

On another level, for some of us it is the first time living abroad. We experienced cultural differences, and met people from all over the world. Naturally, we encountered some language barriers! We can say the project is an interesting intellectual and practical challenge that constantly forces us to break down our own barriers and broaden our horizons, and not just on the research level. It feels like doing a PhD is an adventure that also takes you on a trip to your very core and it demands malleability to adapt and evolve.

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“What are you hoping to have achieved upon completion of your training program?”

We are hoping to become independent scientists with a good overall view on different topics. We hope to have connections and a very competitive formation to achieve a post-doctoral fellowship in a high-level international laboratory, or immediately enter the job market meeting industry's needs. Until the end we expect to further develop a range of hard and soft skills you cannot learn by reading textbooks, etc. And if we are extremely successful in our research—hopefully we will be!—maybe we will be able to say we made a crucial positive impact to this field and in people's lives.

Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the European Hematology Association.