Interview with Jeroen Pasterkamp and Elly Hol
Interview with Jeroen Pasterkamp and Elly Hol

Jeroen Pasterkamp specializes in the biology of axon development and disease. Axons interconnect neurons in our nervous system and allow neurons to communicate with cells outside our nervous system. “The aim of our research is to understand how axons develop and use this information to understand how and why axons change or degenerate in disease, with a particular focus on ALS and epilepsy,” Jeroen explains. 

Elly Hol studies the glia biology of brain diseases. “Glial cells support neurons and are the immune system of the brain. A specific subpopulation of glia are the stem cells of the adult brain. The aim of my research is to understand how glia contribute to brain diseases.”

Helping patients

So what do they like most about translational research? Jeroen enjoys the interactions with clinicians and other professionals in the hospital. But he may like interacting with patients even more. “It puts our work into perspective and adds to our drive to dissect mechanisms that may not only allow us to understand how the brain works but also how we can fix it after injury or disease.”

Elly adds: “This type of research is essential to bridge the gap between animal research and clinical research. Working with human tissue is challenging, because of the variation between individuals, but it brings me closer to the actual clinical problems in patients. It is more and more recognized as an important research approach and in my view, this type of research combined with studies on cell and animal models is essential to progress our understanding of the pathogenesis of brain diseases. This knowledge is essential for developing novel therapies that can help patients.” 

Jeroen also expects strategies that benefit from patient-derived material or information to become more and more important, but always alongside studies that benefit from other experimental approaches in the lab. “There is also a clear need for investing into basic research for the development of knowledge and technology that allows us to translate all the genetic and imaging information that is gathered in the clinic into disease mechanisms and therapy. The future of translational research will rely on setting up multidisciplinary teams containing researchers, clinicians, industry with an important advisory role for patients.”  

“Communication with the general public and involving patients in our research plans is increasingly important. Together with patients we can create awareness for the clinical and biological problems of brain diseases. This will help us to raise funds for the research in our labs, and that will help the patients in the long run as our research will contribute to new leads for therapies.”