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The research of... Judith Kroep

Medical oncologist and researcher Judith Kroep conducts research into ovarian cancer. She received €70,000 for her research project from the Willemijn Charity Golf Day crowdfunding campaign on steunleiden.nl.

Willemijn died of ovarian cancer in 2021 at the age of 57. Her partner Anja ter Horst organised a charity golf tournament with volunteers and Willemijn’s family and friends.

How did you get into ovarian cancer research? What is your connection with or motivation to research this type of cancer?

‘I specialise in the treatment of patients with gynaecological tumours and the translational research involved. Research into this type of cancer has really appealed to me since my second year at university. The patient group has a low survival rate and there is an unmet need for better treatment. That’s why I wanted to specialise in this field. I am glad to support patients with cancer because of the severity of the disease and am pleased to help improve treatment in the process. And my scientific curiosity has me fascinated by immunotherapy.’

Can you tell us a bit about your research?

‘In patients with late-stage ovarian cancer, we often see the disease return, unfortunately. Many women have a poor survival rate. So better treatment is needed. We are now researching whether adding tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) to patients’ standard treatment improves the treatment outcome. TIL are specialised immune cells that recognise and eliminate tumour cells. Research has shown that the immune system plays a crucial role in fighting tumours and that patients with more of these immune cells in their tumours have a better chance of survival. We are looking in the research at whether different types of therapy can reinforce each other, to improve the chances alongside chemotherapy. But further research is needed to improve the treatment.’

How far are you now? What are the expectations?

‘We have completed the first part of the research, which shows that we can safely add these specialised immune cells to the standard chemotherapy. There are no side effects. In an intermediate step, we want to repeat that first stage to ensure the treatment is as good as it can be. We will try to make the added immune cells even more effective in combination with other immunotherapy. Then we will be able to test this optimal combination of immunotherapy on more patients.’

Who was Willemijn and why was she so important to this research?

‘Willemijn was a relatively young patient whose cancer returned. We knew she would not get better and she too was aware of that. She was full of life and could really enjoy sports and holidays, for example, despite the cancer. A really positive and cheerful person. After her death, her partner expressed support for our research. With the Willemijn Charity Golf Day, she put on an impressive event and raised a fantastic sum for follow-up research. I want to thank her immensely for her dedication and organisation.’

Judith Kroep, a medical oncologist and researcher at LUMC

What did you think of the Willemijn Charity Golf Day?

‘It was a wonderful day. There were loads of volunteers and they were even wearing sponsored T-shirts. Everywhere there were people in shirts bearing the “Willemijn logo”. We then went out onto the golf course in groups. It was a relaxed day of golf and people who had no experience could join in too, in a workshop, for example. There were drinks afterwards and a barbecue and raffle. All organised by Anja. You could feel such warmth; it was touching to see all of Willemijn’s friends and family together like that. It was a bigger event than I’d expected, which was really nice. And great that it raised the fantastic sum of €70,000, which was a huge surprise. This makes a huge difference to the research.  It means we really can start the next phase of the research.

‘I’ve now heard from Anja that she’s thinking of organising another such day, which we’re extremely happy about. It is a lovely way to come together and talk about Willemijn and make sense of her loss. The support for our research into this form of cancer is hugely appreciated.’

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