During the Young Stroke Physicians and Researchers (YSPR) session at ESOC 2023 in Munich, four early career stroke physicians and researchers will present their planned or ongoing projects and receive feedback from two renowned stroke experts, Prof Charlotte Cordonnier and Dr Bob Siegerink.

The session is open to all and will take place on Wednesday, 24 May at 8:30 in Room 13 a.

In this series of interviews, we are going to introduce the early career physicians and researchers who have been selected to present their research.

Today we introduce Esther Janssen .

She completed her bachelor in Psychobiology at the University of Amsterdam and the Psychopharmacology and Pathophysiology Master’s track of the Biomedical Sciences program, also in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). She currently is a PhD student at the Department of Neurology at the Radboudumc in Nijmegen, with a research focus on the effects of hypertension on the brain.

How did you get involved in stroke research?

This was mostly  a coincidence. During my Master’s programme I applied for a research project at the Anatomy Department of the Radboudumc on the effects of different diets on the brain. One of the expertises of this group was cerebrovascular pathology, so here I first learned about the brain microvasculature and using MRI to visualize this. Because I wanted to dive deeper into this matter, I went to Edinburgh for a second internship to work with Prof Joanna Wardlaw. This was a great experience and when I got the opportunity to come back to the Radboudumc for a PhD position in this research field, I didn’t have to think about it for very long!

What have been the most difficult challenges regarding your research career so far?

The most difficult challenge so far was starting my PhD during the Covid-19 lockdown. Especially during the first months of your PhD, interaction with colleagues and exchanging ideas about your research is very important, but unfortunately I had to work from home. The pandemic also made the inclusion of participants very challenging, so I wasn’t off to the best start. Fortunately, when the restrictions were lifted, I discovered how much fun collaborating with colleagues and working together in the same research field is.

Why did you choose this topic and how do you think this may have an impact on future stroke care?

During my first research project, I examined the effects of hypertension in brain tissue obtained post-mortem, so per definition in a late stage of small vessel disease (SVD). This is in fact one of the caveats in SVD research; most studies are performed in older individuals, where MRI markers of SVD such as white matter hyperintensities are already visible. But how are we going to delay SVD onset or slow down SVD progression if we’re looking only in individuals with late stage disease? This is why we started the Hyperintense study, where we examine the effects of hypertension and temporary increase in blood pressure in younger individuals, without evident SVD. I believe that studying these early cerebrovascular changes can help us move forward by providing much needed knowledge about SVD onset. This may ultimately be translated to new therapeutic or lifestyle strategies to treat SVD.

What inspires you?

I get most of my inspiration from simply talking with my colleagues, researchers from other hospitals and departments or friends. Just a simple chat while waiting for your coffee at the coffee machine can sometimes give you insights that are easily overlooked when you’re very focused on your own research project. I think discussing your research with people outside your research field can offer new perspectives and creative ideas.

What helps you clear your head after a hard day’s work?

I find that working out is the best way to clear my head and end my working day. I especially enjoy cycling, but I also like to go for a run. Lucky for me, the surroundings of Nijmegen, the city where I live, are a great place to do both. After a long day of work, cooking a nice meal and trying out new recipes also helps me relax (especially when I get to eat it afterwards ?).