John van Noort appointed Professor in Biophysics (Leiden University/LION)


(By: Leiden University/LION) Leiden University has appointed John van Noort as Professor in Biophysics. He studies the way in which our DNA is folded and read out.
John van Noort studied Molecular Life Sciences before he obtained his PhD in Applied Physics. The focus of his PhD research and the subsequent postdoc has always been on the biological side of physics. After thirteen years as a group leader in Leiden, he is now offered a chair in Biophysics, which he will officially accept on February 16 during his oration. ‘I especially like the multidisciplinary character of this field: linking physics to biology and vice versa. It enables you solve new biological problems with quantitative techniques. Plus you get to work with interesting people from different backgrounds.’

The subject of Van Noort’s research gives it its biological aspect; organization and readout of DNA. He studies for example how hormone receptors bind to DNA and then influence a gene’s activity. An interesting factor here is how the DNA’s organization affects the binding of the hormone receptor. This way he learns more and more about the DNA’s readout process, that determines which of the proteins that the DNA encodes for actually are produced.

The microscopes that Van Noort and his group build give the research its physical aspect. ‘Knowledge on optics and mechanics is essential for that,’ he explains. ‘We also use lots of statistical physics in interpreting the data. We don’t just get to see full pictures, because we’re really working on the level of a single molecule. Those are too small to depict with optical microscopy. We can however analyze the emerging fluorescent signals, and find out the underlying structures.’

At the start of his professorship, Van Noort expects to move closer towards pharmaceutical applications. Because he studies for example the binding of hormone receptors to DNA, his research could contribute to the development of hormonal drugs that influence this binding. Currently, these drugs often act as rough remedies. Cortison is for example prescribed for many different complaints, such as infections, pain or immune diseases, and has a long list of side effects. With new insights and screening techniques, pharmacists can develop more specific and therefore more effective hormonal drugs.


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