Briefly, tell us about your background and career up to this point?
I studied Medical Biology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, where I also did my PhD degree. I then went to the Royal Free Hospital at UCL to work as a postdoc in the lab of Prof Arne Akbar for about two years, before returning to the Netherlands for another 2+ years to work as a postdoc in the Rheumatology & Clinical Immunology Department at the University Medical Centre Utrecht. I joined King’s in 2003 as a Lecturer and became Professor of Immune Regulation & Inflammation in 2015.
What do you think people in the School would find most surprising about you?
Not sure if it would surprise people, but I am a big Eurovision fan. Indeed, I got tickets this year to watch one of the semi-finals in Liverpool – it was great fun!
Do you have any current projects that you’d like to tell us about?
My lab has been studying the immunology of rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis for many years with a particular focus on the site of inflammation (i.e. the joint). We now also have several projects running in the lab where we look at the interactions between the nervous and immune systems and how they influence each other, and how this drives pain in these diseases. I find it fascinating to explore this new area of research and to collaborate and learn from my fantastic neuroscience colleagues.
What do you do with your time outside academia/work?
I like to go running, go for long walks, and I love to cook for family and friends. I also like reading and doing the occasional jigsaw puzzle!
What are you looking forward to this year?
Of course, starting as Head of School.
I also have 4 (!) students at different stages of finishing their MD or PhD thesis this year. I very much look forward to helping them all get over the finishing line and celebrate their achievements!
What is something positive that happened to you in 2023?
We had a very nice paper in Cell Reports earlier this year in which we investigated how tissue-resident memory T cells from the joint compare between patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis (doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2023.112514). We started this work during the pandemic years when we had limited access to the labs and to patient samples, so we had to be creative and analyse and discuss a lot of the data remotely. But we managed to bring it all together as a team and produce a strong paper of which I am very proud.
Tell us about a proud accomplishment?
One proud accomplishment was trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas to reach 4,609m. At the time, I had never even walked in the mountains before (I am from the Netherlands, the highest “mountain” is 322 meters high). It was hard work, and the last 9 meters were literally the toughest. I have a picture in my office of me standing at the top – I look at it frequently to remind myself that when I think that a mountain is too high to climb, I can actually do it.
What is your favourite thing about working at King’s?
The culture and the people: King’s has an inclusive, open-minded and forward-looking ethos. There are many opportunities for personal development, and people are recognised and valued for what they bring to the greater community.
Favourite book: This is often the last book I have read, in this case “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus
Favourite scientist: I do not have one favourite scientist… but I would say that young children are naturally great scientists: they are curious, ask a lot of questions, experiment a lot and are not afraid to fail and try again.
And that is what science is all about!
Coffee order: Double macchiato
Most-used emoji: 😊