Happy New EMPA year to you all!
We present you the first EMPA newsletter of 2019! We hope you all had a good start into the new year professionally and privately. We would like to share some important news with you.


Some words of EMPA new chair

André dos Santos Rocha

Dear members, colleagues and friends,
Time has come for a change in the Executive Board of your European MD-PhD Association.
In the last few months, some of our members had to leave, after finishing their MD-PhD degrees and starting new scientific adventures. In this regard, we would like to thank Ali Jawaid, David Kijlstra, Aleksandra Nadiradze, Alaedine Benani, Izabella Smolicz and David Mehler for their dedication and work!
As to include other European countries in our ranks and refresh our team, we opened our doors to all national representatives. We have now the pleasure to announce our Executive Board for 2019:
André dos Santos Rocha – Chair, Laura Ostermann – Vice-chair and Secretary, Maxime Beau – Liaison & Networking and Newsletter, Clara Volpe – IT and Social Media, Maleen Leimkühler – Treasurer and Representatives coordination, Marc Scherlinger – European Representation.
If you want to become part of the EMPA and to help us building the future of European physician-scientists, join today as a member here https://www.eumdphd.com/register. Likewise, if you are highly motivated to become a national representative, send us and email to eumdphdassociation@gmail


Interview with David Kijlstra – former co-chair for Internal Affairs and Treasurer

David showed a lot of devotion to EMPA as a Co-chair, treasurer and most of all friend. We thank him for all his great work and would like to give him the opportunity to write some words to you all

First of all, congratulations with your successful PhD defense!
Thank you!

You were for a long time really active within the executive board of EMPA, when did you first came in contact with EMPA?
The first time I heard about EMPA was through mailings about the EMPA Conference in my hometown Groningen in 2015. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the conference that year because I was still on exchange at Harvard. But after I came back to Groningen in 2016, I joined EMPA a few months before the next conference in Strasbourg.

What made you decide to join EMPA more actively?
I wanted to become active for EMPA mostly because I care about EMPA’s mission. I believe MD-PhDs will play a vital role in the future of healthcare. The pace of new discoveries and new technologies in medicine is speeding up more and more and I believe MD-PhDs will play a vital role in the implementation of all these scientific advances from bench to bedside. Next to this, EMPA also seemed like a very fun and ambitious group of people, so that motivated me even more to join.

Now that you can call yourself MD/PhD (without the student 😉 ) what is going to change for you?
Well the title won’t change anything directly I’m afraid! But for now I will be done with the experiments for my PhD and moving on to new challenges.

How did EMPA influence you during your MD/PhD studies?
EMPA helped me to connect with other MD-PhD students across Europe and to learn from their experiences. Although the curricula for MD-PhD programs vary in different countries, we all face the same challenges and it was very helpful to discuss these with fellow MD-PhD students.  The EMPA conferences were also a great place for scientific discussion and a nice forum to present my talks and posters.

As we know you will continue mostly outside of academia, please tell us more about your plans?At the moment I am setting up a biotech company focused on the pre-clinical and clinical development of a new class of drugs with two co-founders.

Why did you choose to build your own company?
I have been involved with a start-up before and that was a very valuable experience so it definitely created an entrepreneurial drive for me. Starting a company is not an easy option to choose but in the end it’s very rewarding to see something that you’ve built have an impact on people’s lives. I chose this path now because of a great opportunity that resulted from my PhD research, where we have successfully tested a new class of drugs for the heart. I would like to develop the drugs further because they could have a huge impact on patients. Also, setting up a biotech company allows me to fully leverage my medical training and my experience in basic science together with being an entrepreneur.

You lived almost your entire life in Groningen, now you are moving to Amsterdam, what made you change your location?
For both personal and professional reasons. Amsterdam and the surrounding area has a more active biotech industry. Besides that, most of my college friends and siblings also live here now.

Who was the person (famous or just close person for you), that influenced your life and decisions the most?
Such a difficult question! My recent decision to start a company has definitely been influenced by listening to lots of interviews with entrepreneurs, mostly on the “How I Built This” podcast. It showed me that you really don’t have that much to lose by trying to build a successful company, but a lot to gain in terms of personal growth, experience and the opportunity to have a positive impact on the world. My PhD mentors have also taught me a lot about being comfortable with the uncertainty that applies both to doing a PhD and starting a business. You can never predict beforehand how it will work out and that is okay, you just have to enjoy both the challenges and the victories.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully as leader of a successful biotech company where my vision of a new class of drugs for patients is coming true!

What are your wishes/ predictions for EMPA?
I am very happy to now leave the leadership of EMPA to André as the new Chair and all the others on our fantastic team! I think EMPA will still grow a lot further in the coming years, with more members from an increased number of countries. And as EMPA grows we will have even more influence to help set up new MD-PhD programs or improve on existing ones, thereby helping MD-PhD students all across Europe to make the most out of their career! I’m also very excited that there is a growing number of EMPA alumni which can start to provide a great network for our younger members.

Thank you for all your fantastic work, David!


Interview with Ali Jawaid

Co chair External Affairs

We would also like to give the word to another important board member, who will unfortunately leave us. He started as the representative coordinator in 2015 and fulfilled his role as chair for two years. The last year he co-chaired EMPA with David and was responsible for the external affairs. With his work he had a substantial part in building up EMPA!

Dear Ali, thank you for all the effort and hard work you put into EMPA! You have been with EMPA since 2015, how did you start in EMPA and what were your first steps in organization?
I started with EMPA in 2015 and was present in the very first EMPA executive board meeting. During this very meeting, I proposed the idea of an academic study comparing the MD-PhD populations across Europe, which hopefully will be coming out very soon. My other memory of this evening is Ruben pulling me out of a conversation with a Dutch girl to join the other executive board members at the round table, for which I still have not forgiven him ☺

You stayed in EMPA even after defending your PhD thesis, why did you choose this to be the right time to leave the EMPA executive board?
As MD-PhDs, I believe we have an obligation to utilize science for the betterment of humanity. I am now fully engaged in many projects that are at the interface of science and humanitarian causes (such as my work with the SOS global village about the epigenetic effects of early life traumatic stress in humans), which deserve my full attention. The love for EMPA will always be there, but I am leaving it in safe (and definitely younger 😉) hands.

You are fully concentrating on your scientific career, what are your future plans regarding to that?
I am transitioning to an independent research group leader role now. I will be focusing on multi-disciplinary translational research.

What keeps you busy in life except your scientific career?
I am mostly-procrastinating-and-rarely-productive fiction author and a lunatic poet. I also love exploring mythical places and I spend a lot of time on Instagram too and I am totally unapologetic about it.

Is there any person(s) (famous or just close person for you), who influenced your life and decisions the most?
I have had remarkable support from two of my mentors, Prof. Paul Schulz and Prof. Isabelle Mansuy in shaping my physician-scientist career. And as strange as it sounds, once while being completely exhausted at an airport during a lay-over, I had a uniquely inspirational conversation with an elderly gentleman. Right before he took off for his flight, he pointed his right hand to my head and his left to my heart and said ‘You are meant to seek son. Keep on seeking’. Somehow this statement still gives me goose bumps.

As we all know EMPA is a great association, so we are sure you have a lot of good memories 😉 What moments and memories will you treasure especially?
I think I will never forget the EMPA congress in Groningen, which to this day remains the most wonderful congress I have ever attended. And I definitely would always cherish my friendships with Fritzi, Aleksandra, David, Myrthe, and Ruben. Just thinking of these beautiful souls puts a smile on my face, so much nostalgia…..from scandalous EMPA chair/co-chair dance with Fritzi, to trying to steal Ruben’s bow-tie, to David sharing something with me to ‘get it off his chest’, to ‘Gamarjoba’ Aleksandra….these memories are precious.
Anything else you would like to tell EMPA members?
Can I have two separate categories there?


Ok, because you are asking so nicely 🙂
For some specific members: Becoming EMPA chair will neither give you an edge during job interviews (you know who you are 😉 nor satisfy your control-freak tendencies (you also know who you are 😉 so just chill.
For the vast majority: Use EMPA for what it’s meant to be; foster collaborations and be the unanimous voice of MD-PhDs.

Thank you Ali for all your devotion, EMPA will miss you 🙂


Publications from MD/PhD candidates

Emergence of a dalbavancin induced glycopeptide/lipoglycopeptide nonsusceptible Staphylococcus aureus during treatment of a cardiac device-related endocarditis

Manuel Kussmann, Matthias Karer, et al.
Published in Emerging Microbes & Infections

Non-neutralizing antibodies elicted by recombinant Lassa-Rabie vaccine are critical for protection against Lassa fever

Tiago Abreu-Mota et al.
Published in Nature Communications 


A hippocampal circuit linking dorsal CA2 to ventral CA1 critical for social memory dynamics

Torcato Meira et al.
Published in Nature Communications



Neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by cytoreductive surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy for colorectal cancer: a feasibility and safety study

Maleen Leimkühler et. al
Published in World Journal of Surgical Oncology



Important dates to remember:

    • February 7-10th – 4th SAMED (Sarajevo International Medical Students’ Conference)
    • February 7th – Deadline of Abstract submission ISCOMS
  • Check out event calendar Here