Considerans Gouden medaille 2013
n your interview in the Chemisch2Weekblad you said you thought the KNCV Gouden Medaille would go to a ‘hardcore chemist’. Your selection may therefore have come as a surprise. A wellcome surprise, I hope? You were perhaps not aware of the chemical aspects of your work. Maybe you were afraid to be associated with those practitioners of the art that mix fuming liquids in their quest to make gold and by doing so create an environmental mess. A mess now embrased by some chemists in their attempts to create a sustainable, bio-based economy.
Indeed your work on understanding mitosis, or how human cells divide, and how this understanding can help in finding ways to block cancer cells to divide, is far removed from this.
But chemistry is a broad science, as we can also witness here at the CHAINS conference. Understanding biological processes at a molecular level is as ‘hardcore’ chemistry as the reduction of carbon dioxide using a combination of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts. The search committee therefore had no difficulty in judging your candidacy as fitting for the KNCV Gouden Medaille. The committee being besides myself, Titia Sixma, Albert Heck, Bert Weckhuysen, Joost Reek, Albert Schenning, Thom Palstra and Marcel Wubbolts. We did, though, have some difficulty in identifying you as the winner.
We had eight candidates. All hardcore chemists. Active across the whole breath of chemistry, ranging from theoretical chemistry to materials sciences over inorganic, organic, chemical biology to your field, physiological chemistry. Amongst these we identified some excellent candidates for the future. For this year, the Gouden Medaille 2013, we ended up with a shortlist of two very strong candidates. We needed another round of discussion, after consulting some experts, to come to a conclusion. In the end your selection was unanymous.
Unanymous, because we were all convinced on the importance of your work, and its impact on both fundamental cell biology and biomedical cancer research. And because in your quest to understand molecular mechanisms that make human cells divide you bring in knowledge and techniques rooted in chemistry, including chemical proteomics and chemical genetics.
Throughout your career you have focused on the process of how chromosomes are segregated during mitosis. You have helped in identifying a new molecular link involved in the cell cycle checkpoint, termed the spin assembly checkpoint, and how this prevents errors in mitosis. You have focused your research on how abberations in the spin assembly checkpoint contributes to cancer progression and have thus uncovered new biomolecular targets for cancer drug development. To name one highlight, mentioned specifically by all four referees we approached – all big names in the field – is your recent work on BubR1. Long known as a key player in chromosome seggregation, the ascribed kinase activity of BubR1 has been controversial in the field for some time. You recently and unambiguously established BubR1 to be a pseudokinase, not an enzyme, and assigned its role as a scaffolding protein at which other factors assemble.
This one highlight demonstrates your original thinking in this field. You are lauded for this and other major contributions, and also for your clear and intellectual way of presenting your results and doing so not only to colleague-experts but also to laymen in your considerable outreach activities. You are, in conclusion, a highly worthy recipient of the KNCV Gouden Medaille 2013.
Beste Geert, I will end and hand the floor to you. My congratulations and that of the committee to you, and those close to you, with this honour. May it serve as an inspiration to further tap into what chemistry has to offer, to understand, and perhaps also to combat, abberations in molecular mechanisms causative to human cancer.
Hermen Overkleeft, Chair, KNCV Gold Medal 2013 Committee