Our Scientific Officer Annet on working at the foundation: ‘What I like about the foundation is that we make sure that researchers do cooperate with each other’.

From Venlo to Amersfoort, from there to Boston, then back to Groningen and now working in Wieringerwerf! Our new Scientific Officer Annet Linders joins our team since September 2023. Thanks to her knowledge and experience, she supports the scientific side of the foundation. In this we are concerned with finding an affordable treatment for PLN. Time to chat with her!

Annet, very nice to have you with us and how wonderful that you are joining our team. Can you tell something about yourself?

“I am Annet Linders and I was born in Venlo. When I was 1 year old, my parents moved to Amersfoort for my father’s work, so that’s where I grew up. During high school, I developed an interest in biology. This was specific to the biology of the human body, so I started studying biomedical sciences in Utrecht. In the third year, I took one semester of courses at the National University of Singapore.

Following that, I did the master’s in Regenerative Medicine and Technology, a master’s that focuses on biology and technology related to organ repair. For this master’s, I did a 10-month internship in Boston. During this internship, I met a PhD student from Groningen who was working in Peter van der Meer’s lab. He told me they were still looking for new PhD students. I sent the secretary an e-mail and that’s how I ended up in Groningen for my doctoral research.

I looked at the effect of chemotherapy (doxorubicin and ribociclib) on the hearts of treated patients. I did this using so-called induced pluripotent stem cells. These are cells modified in the lab that can become all cell types, including cardiac muscle cells. We can then put these beating heart muscle cells back into a 3D environment to get as close as possible to the human heart. Earlier, I published the following article about it. You can also download movies of knocking 3D structures.

In addition to my work, I enjoy being creative. For example, I like to crochet, but I also built a rabbit hutch with my friend. I read a lot and especially fantasy. Music also plays an important role in my life. I have had piano lessons for a long time, but now play much less than I would like to. A little guitar playing I taught myself during high school and I also like to attend concerts.”

How did you come to know about PLN and the foundation? What is your function exactly?

“There was a job posting hanging in the cafeteria that I responded to. So I didn’t research PLN myself, but the department where I was doing my doctoral research was doing it. Through other people’s research, I gained quite a bit of background knowledge, and I had also heard of the foundation. The Scientific Officer position means that I deal with the scientific side of the foundation. This is very varied work and ranges from answering patient questions to attending scientific conferences and meetings.”

Why did you choose to work at the foundation? How did our mission appeal to you?

“The research world is quite fragmented. What I mean by that is that there is little consultation and collaboration between different research groups working on the same topic. Sometimes because people do not know of each other that they are working on the same topic, sometimes also because there is a fear that ideas will be copied from each other.

In the research world, publications of articles in professional journals are very important. When you get “scoped,” someone publishes similar results faster than you do. As a result, your name will not appear with an article, and you will not get credit for the work. As a result, research is not always done efficiently. What I like about the foundation is that we make sure that researchers do interact and work together. This, of course, is essential to achieving the foundation’s goal of getting affordable treatment to patients as quickly as possible. I believe that we need more organizations like this to better organize research. So I’m happy to contribute to this better world by supporting the foundation.”

How is your experience within academia?

“So I’ve been around in academia for a total of about 10 years, 5 of which have been in research. Peter van der Meer’s lab is a so-called translational lab. That means we stay fairly close to the patients. In addition, the cardiology department of the University Medical Center Groningen also has plenty of PhD students doing clinically oriented research. Once a week there is the morning report, where one time clinical data is presented, the other time experimental data. That gave me that side of the research as well.”

What are the main duties and responsibilities within your position?

“It’s quite a diverse set of tasks. I think my main job is to act as a link between the scientists and Pieter (our chairman) and the patients. We also really try to drive the research with new ideas and advice. For example, I also had the vague idea of perhaps building a database for research that cannot be published, for whatever reason. That still needs further elaboration.”

Are there any challenges you face now within finding a solution for PLN?

“There are still a number of challenges that we have yet to solve experimentally. One theme seems to be that it is still difficult to actually deliver the therapies being devised into the heart. There are already some solutions, but nothing works 100% yet. In addition, I think that bringing a therapy to market is also a long process. This is because they are new types of therapies. There are already a few of them in the market, but not that many yet. That makes it difficult for organizations like the FDA or EMA to assess whether something can be approved.”

How do you look back on your first month working for and at the foundation?

“A tremendous mountain of information came at me, as the foundation is involved in quite a few projects. I found it quite challenging to get a grip on that, but the team is very nice and relaxed. They also gave me time to get used to this quietly, so I would say a very interesting hurricane. I already feel completely at home with the foundation.”

What does the future look like for the foundation (and your position)?

“With any luck: very short! If we are realistic, I think we will be busy developing the therapy for at least the next 10 years. I also suspect that I will get more and more involved in the clinical side of things, when we really go to the patients.”

Are you curious about Annet? She gave a presentation during our information afternoon in Hoorn. In it, she talks about possible treatment methods for PLN and answers visitors’ questions. Watch the live stream with Annet’s presentation below starting at 1:25:48:

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