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Interview: ‘It is all about the cell’s trash cans’

This is an interview with a PhD student of the Disease Intervention Strategies projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.

Interview with Patrick Dekker, PhD student of the project ‘Development of pan-immunoselective proteasome inhibitors’ at Leiden University.

PhD student Patrick Dekker is working on a drug to kill pathogenic microorganisms. The key? Clocking the trash cans of the pathogenic cells.

‘As more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, I am trying to find an alternative way to kill pathogenic microorganisms. I focus on the trash can of the cell: the proteasome. It cuts waste proteins into their building blocks, which can then be recycled. Without it, waste in the cell keeps piling up and will ultimately kill the cell.’

‘While all living cells contain these trash cans, we know that they vary between different organisms. I am trying to find a way to specifically block the trash cans of pathogens, without affecting those in human cells. In the past, my colleagues have created these kinds of drugs for a type of cancer cell. We therefore have hundreds of these drugs in the freezer.’

‘My collaborators are testing which of these drugs target pathogenic microorganisms. Those that seem promising are my starting point. I will then study the structure of the drugs and tweak them by adding and removing pieces to create a drug that specifically blocks the trash cans of pathogens without affecting human cells.’

‘Currently, I am in the second year of my PhD, but I became acquainted with proteasomes – the trash cans – during my internship. I wanted to keep working on these, so I applied for a PhD project in the same lab. I like the fact that I am in control of my research and can steer it in the direction I want.’

PhD project: Development of pan-immunoselective proteasome inhibitors.