Today, Cisca Wijmenga, Full Professor of Human Genetics at the University Medical Centre Groningen (UMCG), was appointed Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion. This royal distinction, which is awarded for exceptional service to the community, was presented to her by the deputy mayor of the province of Groningen, Mattias Gijsbertsen.
Born in 1964, Wijmenga is considered a leading scientist whose work has made a major contribution to our understanding of the genetics of complex chronic diseases, most notably of gluten intolerance (coeliac disease). In 2015 she received the Spinoza Prize - the top Dutch research award - in recognition of her achievements.
In 2017, the Dutch government’s Gravitation programme awarded a subsidy to a project that Wijmenga is co-leading that entails research into ‘organs-on-chips’. An ‘intestine-on-a-chip’ helps her to carry out more thorough research into coeliac disease, as well as studying the role of intestinal bacteria in human health and sickness.
Wijmenga’s work has also transformed clinical practice. In the ten years she spent heading up the Genetics department, she managed to close the gap that often exists between research and clinical practice. Her efforts have contributed to the significant speeding up of DNA testing, which means that genetic information is often available sooner in the diagnostic process. Together with her team, she has also led multiple initiatives designed to popularize genetics, epidemiology and life science research in general.
Wijmenga received the royal distinction during a symposium organised to mark her inauguration to the Lodewijk Sandkuijl Chair, awarded to her by the Executive Board of the University of Groningen in 2017 in recognition of her exceptional contribution to research.
The chair is named after Lodewijk Sandkuijl (1953-2002), who helped to lay the foundations of statistical genetics. He conceived and developed methods to unravel the hereditary factors involved in complex diseases. Wijmenga worked closely with Sandkuijl from the early nineties until his unexpected death in 2002, and it was actually at her suggestion that this chair was named after him.
Cisca Wijmenga has been working at the UMCG as a full professor of Human Genetics since 2007. From 2007 to 2017, she was also Head of the Department of Genetics. Before coming to the UMCG, she was a full professor at Utrecht University. Wijmenga read biology at the University of Groningen and was awarded a PhD with distinction by Leiden University in 1993. Early on in her career, she developed a fascination for the wealth of information hidden within our DNA. As a post-doc researcher, she had the privilege of working in the laboratory of American geneticist Francis Collins who was, at that time, leading the Human Genome Project: the consortium that sequenced the first human genome. Wijmenga is a member of a wide range of academic associations, including the Netherlands Royal Academy of Sciences and the Fryske Akademy.