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Interview with Dr Eva Van Rooij

Dr Eva Van Rooij is a group leader at the Hubrecht Institute, and Associate Professor at the University Medical Center, Utrecht in the Netherlands. Her research focuses on the function of microRNAs in heart disease. She is a member of the Working Group on Myocardial Function and of the Translational Research Committee of the Heart Failure Association.

Can you outline for us the key steps in your career to date?

After I got my graduate degree from the Dept of Cardiology in the Netherlands, I went to go do a postdoc in the laboratory of Eric Olson in Dallas. There I started working on microRNAs in heart disease on which we founded miRagen therapeutics 2 years later. In 2009, I moved to Boulder, Colorado to become head of research at our company. In the beginning of 2013, I returned to academia and started a lab at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands while remaining affiliated with the company as advisor.


You were among the first to demonstrate how microRNAs regulate gene expression, how these pathways underlie heart disease and how they may be targeted for regeneration or repair. It’s a fascinating field but what led you in this direction?

When I came to Dallas, Deepak Srivastava, also a previous postdoc from Eric Olson’s lab who at that time was running a lab next door, had just shown that miR-1 was important for heart development. These findings triggered us to start exploring microRNA function in heart disease and enabled us to show that they are indeed regulated and important for many different cardiac indications.


What do we hope to learn from researching non-coding RNAs?

I think the most important thing to realize is that there is still an incredible amount to be learned and discovered. While we were already very excited about the power and relevance of microRNAs, we are now learning how other non-coding RNAs, like for example lncRNA, also significantly influence biology.


What motivates you?

The scientific freedom and the thrill of discovering new things. Never knowing where your findings will take you next keeps it exciting and interesting. Also the interactions with other scientists/friends make it really worth all the effort.


What do you think are the main challenges that we face in our academic research careers, particularly at the early stages?

You need to make sure you pick the right lab and that lab wants you to become part of the team. The environment is really important for your success I think. If you are surrounded by driven and smart people and in a setting with the right facilities or collaborators you will have the highest chance for success. However, to become part of a high-quality lab they also need to want you. So make sure you stand out by either your CV, your enthusiasm or personality, because competition is high.


At last year’s ESC congress, you were awarded the “Outstanding Achievement Award” by the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Science. Could you tell us how you felt when you heard you’d been selected?

It’s obviously a tremendous honor to be elected for such an award. I am proud I got it based on the things I have done so far and it stimulates me to strive to keep doing interesting science.


How important is this type of recognition?

Being in academic science with a lot of pressure to produce, sometimes insane working hours and a salary that often does not match the effort, these awards represent a very nice pat on the back and stimulate scientists even more to keep doing what they are doing.


If you could offer one piece of advice to a junior researcher hoping to build a scientific career, what would that be?

Only do it if your heart is in it. You have to be incredibly motivated and driven to make it in academic science. You will only be able to keep it up if you really like what you are doing. I personally think that doing research is the best job there is, but that is only because I really enjoy what we are trying to do as a team.