Its possibilities are endless, according to Hans Snijder, director of media and fundraising. For scientists, the auditorium offers a platform for the international exchange of knowledge; for healthcare professionals, it is a place to learn and, above all, to consult. And for the Foundation it is the place to show donors, funds and foundations why their contributions are so important
The color lighting was just a small part of the technical tours de force that the center has to offer. The orange chairs in the front row were strategically reserved for the speakers of the afternoon. The director explained during the run-through that there are cameras pointed at those chairs. The whole show was recorded, including the leading figures, even when they were in the audience.
Chair of the Board Diana Monissen proudly addressed the audience. She was not only proud of "this place of innovation and inspiration," but also of the patience of the Máxima's staff, who were exposed to the noise of hammering and drilling for so long. Besides being proud, Monissen was personally also very relieved; relieved that she will never have to use the ramshackle outdoor elevator upstairs again, now that the auditorium can be reached with a sturdy, reliable elevator.
Former scientific director Hans Clevers took over the stage and shared mixed feelings about the construction phase of the center. On the one hand, there is the enormous pride that an entire center and now also an auditorium have been built in a short period of time. On the other, there were inevitable frustrations during construction, which also led to funny situations, Clevers explained, such as the time when a cross was mistaken for a square on the building plans. The result: a toilet bowl in the middle of the laboratory.
Clevers updated the audience on the developments of recent years. In 2016 fourteen research groups temporarily started working at the Hubrecht Institute; there are now more than 30 groups at the Princess Máxima Center – all focusing on childhood cancer research. The academic component of Máxima is recognized internationally, which is very significant, Clevers believes, not least because it involves long-term funding. In addition to the basic funding from KiKa, this means that the center is on solid ground.
Clevers has resigned as scientific director of the Máxima, but stays on as a scientist. His research group specializes in setting up mini-organs in the laboratory. Clevers took the audience back in time. His line of research began with the discovery of stem cells in the intestines, which he was able to cultivate in the lab. The stem cells grew into mini-intestines: organoids. These organoids have proved to be invaluable in cancer research. Scientists can now study the properties of cells and test medication in the lab. Clevers' group at the Máxima is committed to growing organoids from child tumors.
The position of scientific director was taken over by Alexander Eggermont earlier this year. Eggermont is originally an oncological surgeon, but for the past nine years he has mainly worked as the general director of the Gustav Roussy oncological center and research institute in Paris. Would you, as a surgeon, like to address an audience when Clevers has just finished his address? No, sounded the convinced answer from Eggermont, who was visibly impressed by his predecessor's presentation. But his presentation full of vision and hope was every bit as good.
As a melanoma expert, Eggermont has seen how fast scientific research can change the future of cancer patients. Whereas until recently the chance of curing a metastatic melanoma was only about 5 percent, the advent of immunotherapy has raised it to almost 60 percent. In the development of immunotherapy for children there is still much to be gained, which is one of the three goals Eggermont has in mind. In order to make rapid progress, he wants to invest in research into immuno-oncology, brain cancer and the further development of early clinical trials so that discoveries from the lab can be passed on to the clinic.