Dimphna Meijer is a neurobiologist at TU Delft

Convergence was always a bit in Dimphna Meijer herself. After her education as a molecular neurobiologist, she immersed herself in chemistry and then started a research group at TU Delft at the Department of BioNanoscience. ‘I believe combining biology with technology will bring the most progress.’

When Dimphna Meijer started as a molecular neurobiologist at TU Delft, she often received surprised reactions. However, she soon discovered that many researchers at TU Delft were working on neuroscience. ‘They were all relatively young Principle Investigators (PIs), and they were all interested in the brain.’

Under the wings of the Bioengineering Institute, she brought together all these PIs from different faculties into a workshop, together with her contacts from Rotterdam. ‘We started with twenty PIs, and it has now grown into an annual symposium. We are already five years in; ninety participants attended this year.

The twenty PIs additionally submitted a Flagship proposal to Convergence: Integrative Neuromedicine was born. ‘The best thing about such a Flagship is that the research is so different. Because you have access to other technologies, knowledge and clinical data, you can take much bigger steps than if you were to approach something from the perspective of Nanobiology alone. A Flagship truly enables transdisciplinary research.’

Dementia

For example, a neurobiologist asks fundamental questions. ‘How does the brain work? What happens when two neurons make contact?’ Neurologists at Erasmus MC, on the other hand, have direct contact with patients, for example, patients with dementia, and have clinical and genetic data at their disposal.

Dimphna: ‘If my contacts from Erasmus MC find new clues for dementia in the DNA, we at TU Delft can work with that by making proteins based on that genetic data. When we purify those proteins, we can start looking at what’s wrong at the fundamental level.’

According to Dimphna, Convergence creates synergy: ‘I came to TU Delft because I believe that combining biology and technology will bring the most progress.’

Minor

The PIs are only too happy to pass on the collaborative spirit. That is why the Flagship and the Nanobiology Department developed the minor ‘Collaborative science for biomedical breakthroughs’. Students may participate from different disciplines. Not only from nanobiology but also, for example, aerospace engineering, psychology and computer science.

Students work on their research skills in this minor. In teams, they work on an integrative neuro medicine topic. In the first weeks, they learn which roles to assume in a collaboration, how to write a transdisciplinary research proposal, and how to apply for a patent. After this, they also get to conduct the research themselves.

The minor is now over halfway through. ‘We, as Flagship PIs, are the supervisors of the student projects, so with us, education is already really integrated into the Flagship. Ideally, we will involve another Flagship next year because the setup applies to multiple subjects. Students learn to look beyond the boundaries of their own fields.’

Convergence Relay

This was edition two of the Convergence Relay. The Convergence Relay is a way to better get to know the Convergence community. Participants pass the baton to someone whose work they find interesting but are unfamiliar with. Dimphna Meijer passes the baton to Jacob Hoogenboom of the CIFIC flagship.