Dr Freek van Eeden

Dr Freek van EedenSenior Lecturer
Director: PG Affairs Committee (PGAC)

Department of Biomedical Science
The University of Sheffield
Western Bank
Sheffield S10 2TN
United Kingdom

Room: C13 Firth Court
Telephone: +44 (0) 114 222 2348
email: f.j.vaneeden@sheffield.ac.uk

Bateson Centre

Developmental Biology

Cell Biology and Cancer


Brief career history

  • 2006- present: Senior Lecturer, University of Sheffield
  • 1999 - 2005: Junior Group Leader Hubrecht Laboratory, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • 1997 - 1999: Post-doctoral worker, D. StJohnston Lab, Wellcome/CRC Inst. Cambridge UK
  • 1992 - 1997: PhD, C. Nüsslein-Volhard Lab. Max Planck Inst. für Entwicklungsbiologie, Tübingen, Germany
  • 1986 - 1992 MSc. Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands

Research interests

Using the zebrafish as a genetic tool to study development and disease. We are interested in understanding the role of the patched genes in Hedgehog signaling. In addition, we have created a knockout for the von Hippel Lindau disease (VHL) gene and are interested in modeling VHL deficient cancers in zebrafish.

Professional activities

  • Invited teacher at regular EMBO courses at the MPI in Tübingen (recently also Sheffield)
  • Presenter at open science days and public lectures in Utrecht/Wageningen
  • International collaboration on TILLING with Hubrecht Laboratory Utrecht/Sanger Inst. Cambridge
  • Invited speaker at: ZDM8, Boston,  Aug 2015; Zebrafish PI Meeting Ein gedi 2014; BSDB meeting 2013; European zebrafish meeting Barcelona 2013
  • Reviewer for: BBSRC, Development, FNRS, Swiss research council, Singapore, Hong-Kong and many others

Full publications


Disease modelling in zebrafish

Understanding VHL and hypoxic signalling in Cancer

The zebrafish provides a powerful organism to model human development and disease.  We are exploiting and developing the zebrafish, e.g. by creating such disease models, by using knockout technology like CRISPR, or by looking for chemicals that can modify disease-relevant phenotypes.

One of our current projects, models the human Von Hippel Lindau disease,  caused  by mutation of the VHL gene. VHL is a negative regulator of the Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF) signalling pathway, which is vital for development and survival of many tumours. However, this is not the only function of VHL and over the years numerous others have been identified. We found that in zebrafish, the functions of human VHL have been split over two genes, which we named vhl and vhl-like (vll).

Interestingly, we found that the fish vhl gene has an important role in HIF regulation, as mutants we made by reverse genetics show all hallmarks of an inappropriate hypoxic response under normoxic conditions. The role of vll was initially enigmatic, null mutants that we created in this gene were viable and fertile. However, using a unique and novel in vivo reporter for genome stability that we created, we discovered that the vll gene is important for maintaining genome stability, which is a major driver for tumour initiation. This is what we are currently trying to understand better.

Current collaborations: Sherif El-Khamisy (genome stability), Albert Ong (pkd2 model), Jane McKeating (Birmingham), Francesco Argenton (Padua) (both glucocorticoid-HIF interaction).

Figure 1


  • EU FP7
  • EU Trancyst

Undergraduate and postgraduate taught modules

Level 1:

  • BMS109 Laboratory Skills in BMS

Level 2:

  • BMS237 Advanced Developmental Biology

Level 3:

  • BMS339 Patients as Educators Project
  • BMS369 Wet Lab Project (Co-ordinator)

PhD Studentship

Genetic and Drug Screening in DNA Repair Deficient Zebrafish for Novel Targets in the Treatment of Neurological Disease and Cancer

Co-supervisor: Professor Sherif El-Khamisy

Funding status: Competition funded project European/UK students only

This project is eligible for a department scholarship. These scholarships are awarded on a competitive basis – find out more on our funding webpage.

BBSRC DTP funding available.

Project Description

A cell can experience ~1 million DNA lesions per day from endogenous and exogenous genotoxins. A variety of lesions also result from aberrant replication, or DNA repair itself. DNA lesions threaten essential processes such as transcription and replication and can lead apoptosis and cancer. For example, accumulation of protein-linked DNA breaks (PDBs) cause various neurological diseases, and on the other hand, have been exploited to treat cancer.

Although we know much about DNA-repair pathways from studies in cultured cells, we know little about the extent of functional redundancy at the organismal level. This is important since harnessing this knowledge is rapidly emerging as a powerful approach to treat diseases such as neurodegeneration and cancer. For example, we recently reported, in Nature Neuroscience, a novel mechanism by which PDBs and DNA/RNA hybrids cause motor neuron disease.

Through BBSRC funding and a joint studentship, we established CRISPR mutants in tdp1, brca2, atm, rad52, rad51, which all act in DNA repair, but are mostly viable and often have only mild/no defects as embryos. The objective of the PhD project is to identify backup pathways that can protect the organism if the primary PDB repair pathway is absent. As DNA-repair pathways are often redundant, homozygous mutants provide an excellent background for chemical/genetic modifier screens.

Our primary focus will be on tdp1 mutants, these embryos are - surprisingly- as resistant to DNA damage, as their siblings. We will use CRISPR/CRISPRi technology, and have various chemical libraries available and will screen for defects after induction of DNA damage. We developed an in vivo GFP-reporter system, that uses destruction of a sentinel-repressor to show GFP activation after defective DNA repair. This provides a simple readout in embryos to quantify DNA repair. Importantly, identification of mechanisms behind redundancy may suggest clinical strategies to treat the human disease that results from mutation of tdp1, SCAN1. Moreover, it will provide a platform to stratify cancer patients receiving TDP1 inhibitors currently under development in our labs in collaboration with CRUK technology arm (CRT).

Keywords: Cancer / Oncology, Cell Biology / Development, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience/Neurology

Contact information

For informal enquiries about the project or application process, please feel free to contact:

For further information about these projects and how to apply, see our PhD Opportunities page:

PhD Opportunities

Selected publications

Journal articles