A Personal Touch of Willeke Daamen

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Please learn more about colleagues in our "Personal Touch" series setting employees in the spotlight. A light-hearted manner to learn about the colleagues you know and those you don't!.

This week: Willeke Daamen






1. Name, nationality, current function, department & theme?
Willeke Daamen, Dutch, assistant professor at the Dept. of Biochemistry. Theme: Reconstructive & Regenerative Medicine

2. When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your childhood years. 
When I grew up, I wanted to become a pilot on a rescue helicopter, as I was greatly impressed by what helicopter pilots were capable of in the mountains of Austria. Probably, it also had something to do with being a spectator at various air shows as a child, a hobby my father and brother shared (the rest of our family repeatedly joined them).

3. What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why did you choose that study/those studies? 
After secondary school, my interests had shifted and I studied food technology at Wageningen University. I particularly focused on dairy science and food chemistry. During my studies, I went to a dairy institute in Scotland for half a year where on weekdays I worked in the lab, but joined the local hill-walking club in the weekends. When I returned I had not only improved my English, but definitely my Scottish as well.

By the time I was finished, I was sure that my career had to continue as a PhD student. I had some good ideas what to do in food science, when an advertisement in the newspaper caught my attention. It was about a PhD study using the protein elastin as a biomaterial. Although somewhat different from what I studied, I reckoned that protein chemistry would still be protein chemistry in medical applications. I applied for the position and got the job. It turned out that extracellular matrix molecules were not so easy to handle, especially when you want to purify them, but after some years I managed to isolate intact elastin fibres.

4. The RIMLS motto is ‘to understand molecular mechanisms of disease’. What does this mean for you?
By understanding the molecular mechanisms of disease, or maybe more appropriate to my field of research the molecular mechanisms of biomaterials in regenerative medicine applications, it will be easier to predict the result of a certain therapy as well as to improve on the outcome when more scientific knowledge becomes available.

5. Which international scientist inspires/inspired you the most? Please give a motivation why.
It is not somebody in particular, but I greatly admire scientists that go against the tides, and stick to their ideas, even though it is not a well-accepted scientific idea. Sometimes when they keep on working on their hypotheses, it may eventually change the view of the scientific community as a whole.

6. Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud?
When I was a PhD student, I made a serendipitous observation of globular structures in biomaterials made by lyophilisation of collagen and solubilised elastin. They actually turned out to be capsules. At first it seemed that the properties of the solubilised elastin were responsible for this, but with additional experiments it turned out to be a more physical phenomenon as we could also make these structures from other materials. We named the capsules “lyophilisomes”, and are still investigating controlled release applications in cancer treatment and tissue engineering.

7. Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?
That would be a researcher’s utopia! I can think of so many experiments now…

But I guess I would investigate a large set of scaffolds with specific characteristics that we recently designed and made in the lab (having e.g. shape-memory, controllable stiffness, pore or fibre orientation). In combination with signalling molecules, biological and synthetic alike, they have such potency to mimic and regenerate all kinds of different tissues and organs in the body that I cannot wait to broaden our research efforts in this direction, all the way from in vitro studies to in vivo studies and the patient.

8. What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)? 
My desk looks rather clean and structured, as I am in my job as well. For me, planning and structure is vital.

9. Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her? 
My nomination goes to Hans Von den Hoff. I would like to ask him how he deals with the temporary relocation of his laboratory away from the campus.

10. What type of person are you, quick insights:
a) Mac or  PC:
b) Theater or Cinema:
c) Dine out or dine in: 
Dine out
d) Ferrari or Fiat:
e) Schopaholic or chocoholic:
Liquorice-aholic (“dropaholic”)

f) Culture or Nature:

A bit of both makes it perfect

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