How it all began
Together with a group of fellow scientists, we started the Dutch RNA Network at the beginning of 2017. All of us are researchers in various fields of biomedical/life sciences, from all major universities in the Netherlands, and we have in common that we work on RNA. As we felt that there is a lack of interaction with other RNA-focused researchers at specialized meetings in our respective fields, varying from Cardiovascular Disease to Muscular Dystrophy to Nephrology, we decided to get together three to four times a year and focus on RNA biology and methodology.
Dutch RNA Network meetings are organized for an attendance of up to 30 people and are held in small meeting rooms, around one large table, for optimal, direct interaction and discussion. Each meeting starts with a ‘round’, where each participant introduces his or her research topic, the RNA methods that he or she uses and the RNA methods that he or she needs (but does not have up and running yet). The round is followed by a refreshment break, allowing participants to interact and exchange experience with the methodology that was just introduced around the table.
After the break, there is time for three to four presentations by members of the Network, usually including at least two graduate students or junior postdocs. At least once a year, a guest speaker from outside the Netherlands is invited. Even though we all research different types of disease, presentations focus on RNA biology and methodology.
Three meetings were held so far. Examples of topics, methodology and RNA species that were discussed ranged from microRNA processing and A-to-I editing quantification in cardiovascular disease and the role of lncRNAs in cardiac development during the 1st meeting; the role of the ribonucleoprotein RNase MRP in health and disease, RAN translation in neurodegenerative disorders and disturbed pre-mRNA processing in osteoarthritis during the 2nd meeting; and state-of-the-art technologies like smFISH, LNA oligos, single cell RNA sequencing and RNA structure during the 3rd meeting of this year.
We started the network specifically to stimulate interaction between RNA scientists from different biomedical/life science disciplines. The RNA network offers an opportunity to share knowledge, but, more importantly, experience, and RNA methodology. Furthermore, we aim to stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations between RNA scientist within the Netherlands, based on the common interest in RNA, not a specific type of disease or pathology.
By including junior scientist (graduate students and junior postdocs) in the Network and giving the allocated speaking time during the meetings, we contribute to the training of young RNA scientists, both in RNA biology and methodology and in scientific communication and networking. The inclusion of guest speakers from outside the Netherlands creates opportunities for networking and collaboration on an international level.
Benefits of starting the Dutch RNA Network include a direct increase in knowledge and understanding in RNA biology and methodology, which often involves very expensive and highly specialized techniques and equipment such as RNA-seq and oligonucleotide therapeutics. More importantly however, our network facilitates direct interaction between RNA scientists from different biomedical disciplines. Due to the great diversity of the group, as far as research topic is concerned, these Dutch RNA scientists would otherwise probably never meet. At the same time, the multidisciplinary character of the group’s composition creates a ‘safe environment’, as no one is each other’s direct competitor and is therefore very willing to help and cooperate. The network offers opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations, which can be very quick and efficient, due to the short physical distances between participating cities (<3 hours traveling time).