Tjessa Bondue is a young and energetic newcomer to the field of cystinosis. She only recently graduated as a Master in the Biomedical Sciences from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in 2020. Her first introduction to the subject of cystinosis was in 2018, when she was able to enjoy a short internship in the Laboratory of Paediatric Nephrology and the cystinosis research of Prof. Elena Levtchenko and Prof. Bert van den Heuvel. There, she was so intrigued by the disease, which was not known to her before the internship, that she decided to pursue the subject further as her Master Thesis project in 2019 – 2020. Her Thesis, about the potential and the future use of CTNS mRNA-based therapeutics to treat cystinosis, introduced her to the world of RNA-based therapeutics. During this time, she was also fully introduced in the laboratory and was able to attend several conferences and patient meetings, further cementing her fascination with the disease and allowing her to fully realize how cystinosis affected the patients and the need for a new therapeutic strategy to help these people.
While the thesis project itself was cut short due to the Covid-19 crisis, a good base was laid down for the future research in this topic. While the world of mRNA-based therapeutics was still in its early stages before the Covid-19 crisis, with two siRNA-based therapeutics being approved in 2018 and 2019, the research domain was revolutionized and introduced to the wider public with the quick development of the mRNA-based vaccines for SARS-CoV2. This led Tjessa to fully realize the future potential of the mRNA-based approach for the future treatment of patients suffering from a variety of diseases. Therefore, she did not want to let go of het Master thesis project and decided to pursue the subject further.
In 2020, she wrote and defended the subject of mRNA-based therapy for cystinosis in front of the jury of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) and was amongst the lucky ones to obtain the FWO-fellowship and continue the journey as a PhD-project. Currently, she is a first year PhD student in the laboratory of Prof. Elena Levtchenko and Prof. Bert van den Heuvel, trying to further advance this potential new therapeutic strategy, by establishing the potential of CTNS mRNA to ameliorate the cystinosis phenotype, with the main focus being the kidney.