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The Sontag Foundation grantee Capucine van Rechem

Stanford University

What’s something that people may not know about you?

I met my husband playing underwater hockey. This is not a well-known sport and we, as players, usually get the “What? Do you mean ice hockey, or water polo?” No, we mean hockey on the bottom of a swimming pool. The sport is the best I have ever played. It is a team sport in 3 dimensions, and one needs to know your teammates because there is no way to communicate underwater during a game. A lot of skills that can be transferred to working in a team environment such as a research lab.

Why did you pursue brain cancer research?

Loss of parents is pretty hard, but losing a child? It sounds really “not fair,” to use one of my daughter’s favorite words. DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) is an incurable brain cancer in children, with a median survival time from diagnosis of 9 months. At the end of my post-doctoral training, I realized that I had the scientific skills to answer a very specific mechanistic question related to DIPG that had the potential to lead to new therapeutic strategies. My training is in epigenetics and this cancer has roots that lie within the core components of the chromatin. It was a “no brainer,” to use a contextual expression, that I should start my lab on this particular project – what if we could help prevent or cure this disease in any way?

What does it mean to you to be a Sontag Distinguished Scientist or what has the Sontag Foundation afforded you as a Distinguished Scientist?

Being a Sontag Foundation Distinguished Scientist means a lot to me. First of all, the Foundation gave me the opportunity to establish the first research project in my own laboratory. Getting support at this stage of my career was extremely important and paved the path for future funding. But it does not stop there. Soon after being awarded, I realized that I was part of a very special foundation: by establishing a sense of community and bringing actual and former grantees together regularly, the Sontag Foundation gives us the opportunity to interact scientifically and personally with many incredible scientists doing brain cancer research. This is absolutely priceless and leads to collaborations that would have been much more difficult to establish otherwise. I am so grateful to the Sontag Foundation to have been given the chance to be part of this community.