Researchers of Novosanis: My unexpected path to a PhD in collaboration with a company

Our ‘Researchers of…’ articles explore behind the scenes in the labs of researchers who work with and for the EACR’s Industry Partners. Stephanie Jordaens talks about her experience leading to a PhD position working in collaboration with Novosanis.

I was always fascinated by the human body, and how it works; that is how I ended up pursuing my professional bachelor’s degree in Chemistry-Biochemistry at Karel de Grote University College in Belgium. However, it was not until my second year that I knew what I was really interested in.

As part of the course, one afternoon we had an external speaker from the University of Antwerp. Professor Filip Lardon addressed our class about his research; he discussed what causes cancers, as well as the current challenges in cancer research. It was during this time that my curiosity and passion in the field of cancer began.

So, after my professional bachelor’s degree, I made my first not-so-obvious choice to perform a bridging program, adding a year and a half to my studies, something atypical in my friend group and other students in the program that went to work in industry. This allowed me to gain my academic bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Biotechnology, which I needed to pursue further studies in cancer research.

My first experience abroad

Then, I started my master’s in Biochemistry and Biotechnology with a major in Cell Biology and Physiology. Here, I made my second not-so-obvious choice. I decided to go to Hull, a small city in the United Kingdom for my thesis project with Dr. Barbara Guinn in adult acute B-cell leukemia. Most of my peers chose to do their master’s thesis at the lab they wanted to continue their PhD in.

However, I decided going to the UK at that point would be good for me both personally and professionally. I wanted to improve my English speaking and writing skills, especially since it is the language for science. Moreover, this was my first time living outside of Belgium and outside my comfort zone. This experience has been invaluable; I learnt more about research, the culture in a new country and a lot about myself.

In June 2019, I finished my master’s and the end of my academic career, so I thought. But I loved what I was studying, and I enjoyed being in a lab. So, the next logical step was a PhD.

How did I start a PhD with Novosanis?

I started to apply for PhD positions. Unexpectedly, one day, I received an email from the co-reader of my master’s thesis project referring me to a PhD position in collaboration with a company called Novosanis. This was different from the usual projects I was looking at through University. I did some research into the company’s mission and the topic – “Urinary biomarkers in oncology”. The project seemed relevant to my interest in cancer research. Additionally, I was intrigued about the possibility of urine as a new sample type. Something inside of me told me to take the jump!

My research investigates urine as a liquid biopsy for detection of breast and prostate cancer, focusing on three types of urinary biomarkers for oncology: cell-free DNA, extracellular vesicles, and proteins. While performing a PhD at Novosanis is completely different than at university (at least I believe so, based on stories from my fellow PhD students), that is what I like about it. I have now been with Novosanis for over a year and have learned so many things about the real-life workings of a healthcare company and about life as PhD student. I have also had many opportunities thanks to the company, such as going to conferences, giving presentations, and being part of a larger international organisation.

I may not have always chosen the easiest or most obvious path in my academic career, but I am extremely happy with my progress so far. I enjoy what I do every day. At the same time the work is challenging and innovative. I look forward to my next four years completing my PhD and making my contribution in whatever way to cancer research.

About the author

Stephanie Jordaens is a PhD student at the Center for Oncological Research (CORE) – University of Antwerp as well as a Biomedical Scientist at Novosanis. She can combine both through the VLAIO research grant called Baekeland Mandate.

Her PhD project is focussed on urine as a liquid biopsy for cancer detection, primarily on breast and prostate cancer. Novosanis develops the Colli-Pee® platform, which allows volumetric and standardized collection of first-void urine. The device also allows addition of a urine preservative improving sample stability.

Novosanis is a medical device company. Colli-Pee, the heart of the company, allows volumetric and standardized collection of first-void urine. Click to know more about their products and its applications as a liquid biopsy in cancer research.


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