From Holland to Burlington
Janssen-Heininger’s research career began early, as an undergraduate student at the University of Limburg in Maastricht, The Netherlands. She studied biological health sciences, investigating coal
miners’ lung diseases while earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She earned a Ph.D. at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, in alliance with Maastricht University Medical Center. At a conference in Canada in 1989, when
Janssen-Heininger was a doctoral student, her Dutch mentor introduced her to Brooke Mossman, Ph.D., now professor emeritus of pathology and laboratory medicine at UVM and a University Distinguished Professor. Mossman invited Janssen to collaborate
on a three-month research project at UVM.
“I had no idea what I was getting into. Three months turned into five months, one year into two years. I went back and forth to Maastricht working on my Ph.D. research. My intention was always
to go back to Holland to support research at my alma mater,” Janssen-Heininger said.
And then life happened. She met her future husband, Peter Heininger, a Lake Champlain ferryboat captain, at the Old Dock House ferry stop in Essex,
N.Y., when he crashed the graduation party she was attending. Janssen-Heininger completed her Ph.D. in 1993, and the couple married in 1996, the same year she was offered a faculty position at UVM.
Janssen-Heininger completed her postdoctoral
training in UVM’s pathology department under a Parker B. Frances Foundation fellowship in pulmonary research. She progressed through the faculty ranks, starting as a research assistant professor and becoming a full professor in 2008. From 2017
to 2021, she was vice-chair for research for the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. She received the inaugural National Heart Lung and Blood Institute R35 Outstanding Investigator award and was named the 2017 Larner College of Medicine
Research Mentor and the College’s 2021 Research Laureate.
Janssen-Heininger settled into life in Vermont with her husband, raising a son, Skyler, and daughter, Meara, now 20 and 23 years old, respectively.
did return to her alma mater, in a way: In 1997 she initiated and helped build an affiliation between the UVM and University of Maastricht, establishing an exchange program for graduate students. This ongoing alliance has provided a means for scientific
knowledge exchange and allowed for more competitive research grant applications. Since 1999, Janssen-Heininger has been an adjunct professor for the Department of Pulmonology at the University of Maastricht. Many doctoral students and post-doctoral
fellows working in the Janssen-Heininger Laboratory have been affiliated with the University of Maastricht.
* * *Collective Approach
Janssen-Heininger’s scientific discoveries have focused on the pathways that regulate fibrotic tissue, bridging the gap between basic biochemistry and the development of new therapeutics to
combat pulmonary disease. She holds five U.S. patents for systems and methods to determine oxidized proteins and treating oxidative stress conditions, and the Janssen-Heininger Laboratory works to advance these as potential drugs to treat fibrotic
She is dedicated to training the next generation of scientists: To date, Janssen-Heininger has supervised nearly 30 graduate students, more than 10 postdoctoral fellows, and nine undergraduate students. She strives to provide
an exciting research environment and extensive mentoring for laboratory members to enable each of them to be successful in the biomedical science arena. Dozens of her trainees have advanced to successful academic careers, including several faculty
members at the Larner College of Medicine who are tenured and have secured independent funding, due in large part to her critical mentorship.
“Yvonne is a really supportive mentor and a good example to follow, both scientifically
and in terms of career development,” said postdoctoral fellow Elizabeth Corteselli, Ph.D. “It’s a very collaborative environment. Our projects are all different but related, and we all help each other out.”
lab’s faculty scientist, Reem Aboushousha, Ph.D., began in the lab as a technician in 2015, continuing as a doctoral student under Janssen-Heininger’s mentorship. Her dissertation research focused on metabolic reprogramming and redox perturbations
in asthma. Aboushousha now investigates treatments for cancer.
“I am working on a unique new pathway that unravels how cancer cells develop resistance to chemotherapy. It’s relevant to many cancer types that we see people struggling
with. We are working with other UVM investigators, here and also in the chemistry department, to develop compounds to test our hypotheses,” Aboushousha said.
The Janssen-Heininger Lab team, which also includes two undergraduate students
and four technicians, partners with clinical investigators in other laboratories, including chemists, biochemists, cell biologists and physiologists. Janssen-Heininger works closely with fellow pathology and laboratory medicine faculty and UVM Cancer
Center members, including Adrianus (Jos) van der Velden, Ph.D., Vikas Anathy, Ph.D., Brian Cunniff, Ph.D., Albert van der Vliet, Ph.D, and David Seward, M.D., Ph.D. Their collaborations have produced numerous academic publications, innovations, and
Janssen-Heininger envisions a University of Vermont Institute for Redox Medicine, incorporating multiple domains of expertise to advance technologies and drug development efforts without relying solely on federally-funded
“Our collaborative expertise makes us better able to advance discoveries and drug development efforts. There’s tremendous opportunity for us to develop new drugs to change the course of disease,” Janssen-Heininger
said. “Our group has several patents ripe for further development, and we are ready to expand these endeavors. One compound, developed in our program by Dr. Cunniff and Nicholas Heintz, Ph.D., professor emeritus, is currently in a Phase 1 clinical
trial for patients with malignant mesothelioma, a lethal cancer of the lining of the lung.”