Gretchen de Graav obtained her doctorate on how immune cells react to certain drugs for kidney transplant patients. “I feel that we’ve shown the transplant world that this drug is not ideal immediately after the transplant.”

Imagine that you’re chatting to an uncle at a party. How would you briefly explain your study and the results?

“We looked at how different immune cells work and interact in kidney transplant patients who were being treated with the immunosuppressants tacrolimus and belatacept. Belatacept is a relatively new drug which appears to have fewer side effects and fewer harmful consequences for the donor kidney. But my dissertation shows that the risk of rejecting the donor kidney is a lot higher. An important explanation is that various immune cells can escape belatacept.”

How does the world benefit from your dissertation?

“I think that we’ve shown the transplant world that this drug is not ideal for use immediately after transplant. Patients need a stronger drug directly after transplant. Whether it will immediately have a worldwide effect, I don’t know. The research has only just been published and generated a lot of sharing and tweeting at once. There are other ongoing studies that seem to show similar results, so I expect that doctors will be more careful when prescribing belatacept in the first months after a kidney transplant.”

What was your lowest point over the past few years?

“My first article was rejected five times. Obviously you realise that these things happen regularly, but you do feel sad for a few days. I’d already rewritten the article a couple of times and incorporated feedback from my boss. I felt that I’d spent a lot of time and energy on it. The first time it was actually rejected within two hours.”

Who in your acknowledgements had you not expected to be so important for you?

“I met my boyfriend in the lab. We met up with each other a lot outside work too, also with other colleagues. He was interested in me quite quickly, but I didn’t realise immediately and held him off a bit. Then I began to realise that I missed him if he wasn’t at work.”

cover proefschrift Gretchen de Graav

The cover

“My boyfriend designed the cover. You see me in a kind of lotus position between the lab and the clinic. I was at home in both places and felt comfortable during the research, which has elements from the lab and clinical practice. The colour pink is just gorgeous. Everyone should have some pink in their lives. And it’s also to tease my supervisors. I once gave a presentation with all the figures in pink. They couldn’t stop telling me how much they hated that.

“Throughout the book you can see photos of Rotterdam and Surinam, which is where my grandparents and several aunts, uncles and cousins live. I always try to find a balance between both cultures. After the official doctoral hooding ceremony, I gave the committee a hamper with products from Rotterdam and Surinam.”