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Principal Investigator

J.W.M. (John) Martens, PhD

  • Department
  • Medical Oncology
  • Focus area
  • Genomics of breast and colectal cancer, Head of Translational Cancer Genomics



John Martens studied biology and graduated (1988) and received his PhD (1994) in Molecular Biology at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. After being a post-doc in Molecular Endocrinology between 1995 and 2001 at Erasmus MC and USCF, he proceeded his career from translational cancer genomics research the Dept. of Medical Oncology at the Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Since 2017, he is now professor in translational cancer genomics and it his ambition (i)to discover new prognostic and predictive markers for breast and colorectal cancer and (ii) to gain insight into the different molecular mechanisms underlying disease heterogeneous and associated treatment resistance, ultimately to offer patients the best choice of treatment possible.

DNA damage response

His group applies various genomics tools i.e. next generation DNA and RNA sequencing and single cell genomics to understand disease heterogeneity, therapy failure and prognosis in primary and metastatic cancer as well as to explore in cell line models the biological significance of discovered clinical associations. Another research line focuses on biomarkers in the circulation (circulating tumor cells – CTCs – and circulating tumor DNA – ctDNA). Currently, we routinely isolate CTCs and ctDNA from metastatic cancer patients in various clinical studies and develop methodology for gene expression profiling on CTCs and for targeted and low pass sequencing on ctDNA and CTCs including single CTC genomics allowing us to investigate intrinsic and acquired resistance in real time in patients receiving state-of-the-art treatments.

Field(s) of expertise

Genomics of breast and colorectal cancer; circulating biomarkers (ctDNA, CTCs, exosomes); prognostic an predictive markers. RNA sequencing. Development of innovative bioinformatics pipelines for RNA seq, WGS en single cell genomics.

Education and career

M.Sc., Biology, Agricultural University Wageningen, The Netherlands (1988)
Ph.D., Molecular Biology, Agricultural University, Wageningen, The Netherlands (1994)
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Medical Oncology, Erasmus MC-Daniel den Hoed, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2009)
Associate Professor, Dept. of Medical Oncology, Erasmus MC-Cancer Institute, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2011)
Full Professor, Dept. of Medical Oncology, Erasmus MC-Cancer Institute, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2017)


241 publications. H index=54 (Scopus); 15 patent applications. Listed are the most relevant publications

1. Smid M, Rodríguez-González FG, …., Stratton M, Foekens JA, Martens JWM. Breast cancer genome and transcriptome integration implicates specific mutational signatures with immune cell infiltration. Nat Commun. (7), 12910 (2016)
2. Nik-Zainal S, Davies H, Staaf J, B,... , Martens JWM,…, Thomas G, Stratton MR. Landscape of somatic mutations in 560 breast cancer whole-genome sequences. Nature (534), 47 (2016)
3. Foekens JA, Sieuwerts AM, Look MP, Wiemer EAC, Martens JWM. MicroRNAs associated with aggressiveness of hormone receptor-positive human breast cancer. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. (105), 13021 (2008)
4. Are immune signatures a worthwhile tool for decision making in early-stage human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive breast cancer? Foekens JA, Martens JW, Sleijfer S. J Clin Oncol. (33),673-5 (2015)
5. Hammerl D, Rieder D, Martens JWM, Trajanoski Z, Debets R. Adoptive T Cell Therapy: New Avenues Leading to Safe Targets and Powerful Allies. Trends Immunol. 2018 Nov;39(11):921-936.
6. Smid M, Wilting SM, Uhr K, .., Stunnenberg HG, Stratton M, Foekens JA, Sieuwerts AM, Martens JWM. The circular RNome of primary breast cancer. Genome Res (29), 356 (2019)

Teaching activities

Main activities:
• Lecturer on “prognostic markers in breast cancer” within theme 2 of the curriculum for 2rd year Medical students at Erasmus MC.
• Coordinator mammacarcinoma lecture series (together with A. Jager) within theme 2 of the curriculum for 2rd year Medical students at Erasmus MC.
• Lecturer and moderator of sessions in the Basic Course on Biomedical Research Techniques of Post-Graduate School Molecular Medicine.
• Ad hoc lecturer for various courses (gene expression/microRNA/NGS) for the Post-Graduate School Molecular Medicine.
• Minor Oncology for 3rd year Medical students at Erasmus MC.
• Minor Genomics techniques in Oncology for 3rd year students Nanobiology at TU Delft/Erasmus MC.

Other positions

• Full member of the American Association of Cancer Research;
• Member of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) PathoBiology Group;
• Member of the BOOG translational research advisory committee;
• Member of the breast cancer association consortium (BCAC);
• Member of the Center of Personalised Cancer Treatment (CPCT);
• Member of various national (WET/HEBON) and international (CYMBA/BCAC) consortia connected to hereditary breast cancer (since around 2009)
• Steering committee member of the Erasmus MC Cancer Computational Biology Center (CCBC) (Since 2014)
• Member of the Scientific Advisory board of the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF) (since 2016)

Participating research members:

• S. Nik-Zainal. Cancer research UK, Cambrigde, UK.
• C.G.J. Sweep, Department of Chemical Endocrinology, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen.
• P.N. Span, Department of Radoitherapy, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen.
• B. van de Water, Division of Toxicology, Leiden/Amsterdam Center for Drug Research, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands.
• L. Terstappen, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands.
• L. Wessels, Department of Bioinformatics and Statistics, Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam.
• H. Meijers/Q. Waisfisz, Department of Clinical Genetics, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam.
• S.J. Van Laere/Dirix LY, Laboratory of Pathology, University of Antwerp/University Hospital Antwerp, Oncology Center, Sint-Augustinus, Antwerp, Belgium
• Jaap M.J. den Toonder, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven.
• Erik Danen, Division of Toxicology, Leiden Center for Drug Research, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands.
• Peter ten Dijke, Department of Molecular Cell Biology, Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands.
• Jos Jonkers/Wilbert Zwart/Jelle Wesseling/Ester Lips, Deptment of Molecular Pathology, The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
• Carolien Shröder. Department of Medical Oncology, UMCG, The Netherlands.

Scholarships, grants, and awards

NKB NKI2014-7080 Genetic causes of resistance to new androgen receptor signaling inhibitors in circulating tumor DNA of metastasized castration resistant prostate cancer patients. PIs: M Van der Heijden, E Cuppen, JW Martens, MP Lolkema, A Bergman
NKB EMCR 2014−7087 Cranking up tumor-specific T cell responses in metastatic breast cancer. PI, R Debets & JWM Martens
NKB RUG 2013−6267 INFLAME: towards optimal treatment of inflammatory breast cancer patients PIs, CP Schröder, GS Sonke, JWM Martens, JG Wesseling.
Daniel den Hoed Stg 2015 Single circulating tumor cell (CTC) research and diagnostics using the VyCAP single cell puncher. J.W.M. Martens, R. Fodde, R.W. Hendriks
NKB EMCR 10270 2016 The role of APOBEC3B in breast cancer therapy resistance. JWM Martens RS Harris, PN Span
NKB EMC 10823 2016 Is ESR1 mutational status measured in cell-free DNA associated with outcome to first-line taxane-based chemotherapy in ER-positive HER2-negative MBC patients? S. Sleijer, J.W.M. Martens, A. Jager A.
NKB UL 10967 2017 Unraveling the role of signaling networks controlled by Grainyhead like transcription factor in breast cancer subtypes. E. Danen, J.W.M. Martens, J. Jonkers
Daniel den Hoed 2017 Development single circulating tumour cell diagnostics. J. Martens, S Wilting, S Sleijfer.
NKB EMCR 11708 2018 Prediction of early recurrence in patients with resectable colorectal cancer liver metastasesusing a blood-based expression profile. S Wilting, A. Sieuwerts, C. Verhoef.
NKB EMCR 12039 2019 Detection of early progression by circulating tumor DNA in metastatic breast cancer patients treated with endocrine therapy and CDK4/6-inhibitors. A. Jager, JWM Martens, MP Jansen, A IJzerman (12039)
BC Now 8308 2019 The value of circulating tumor DNA dynamics in patient selection for palbociclib treatment. S. Wilting, A. Jager, JWM Martens
MLDS 2018 Prediction of early recurrence in patients with resectable colorectal cancer liver metastasesusing a blood-based expression profile JWM Martens, SM Wilting, C Verhoef.

My Groups