Interviewed by Nicolas Martinez-Majander, Helsinki University Hospital.
In 2018, I started working as a neurologist with neurovascular focus at NeuroVascular Center Antwerp (NVCA), at Antwerp University Hospital (UZA, Belgium), where I combine clinical work and research in an academic setting with the focus on stroke.
How did you get involved in stroke research?
During my residency in Neurology, I had the opportunity to develop my interests in research in general and especially in stroke, through a PhD study on the radiological evolution of cerebral small vessel disease (cSVD). However, this was not possible without the inspiration and support of several mentors. I believe a good mentor empowers fellows to develop their own skills, beliefs and research opportunities. As I was in the fortunate situation of being supported by such great mentors during my residency and PhD project, I hope to be such mentor in the future for orther young physisians in the Antwerp University Hospital.
Why did you choose your topic?
The shiny new toy in stroke treatment is without a doubt endovascular therapy. However, neurovascular disease is more than acute stroke treatment. Cerebral small vessel disease (cSVD) is a microvascular disease of the brain, strongly associated with increasing age and presence of vascular risk factors. The burden on public health is substantial. Cerebral SVD is related to cognitive impairment and is the second most common cause of dementia. It is also related to stroke, gait disturbances and general functional disability. The pathogenesis of cSVD is still largely unknown and ways to slow down the progression of cSVD are still lacking. I believe that comprehension of the natural course of cSVD, will result in specific treatment and prevention options. By preventing progressive cSVD-related brain damage in the future, personalized treatment approaches will eventually improve clinical outcome, including cognition, gait function and general functional independence. This will eventually unburden the healthcare system and society in the future.
What have been the most difficult challenges regarding your research career so far?
The is a real challenge, especially for a young stroke researcher, is finding the focus and the right time balance between clinical and academic work. I try to integrate research with clinical interests, so it runs alongside my clinical activities, rather than being separate. I think that clinical work and patients are inspiring to identify relevant research questions. Further, when it comes to research, you need a good research team of collaborators, clinicians, colleagues and friends, who support your enthusiasm for getting answers to the research questions. I am so grateful that I am a member of such supporting research team, namely the NeuroVascular Center Antwerp (NVCA).
How to balance your work life and free time/home life?
Combining clinical and academic work with family is an everyday challenge, especially after my son was born 2,5 years ago and with a second child on the way. Prioritizing, structuring and time management are crucial, but also keeping the fun in whatever I am doing. Last but not least without the backing of my supportive husband and my whole family, it would not be possible at all.
How did you experience the session and how will it influence your research project in the future?
I found the YSPR workshop vary useful and would recommend it to all young stroke researchers and physicians. As a young stroke physician and junior vascular stroke neurologist, and especially when you start in a new hospital or department, it is often I really difficult to start your own research projects. Getting the concept of an idea into a real research project often needs guidance. I got valuable and practical feedback on my study protocol from an expert panel and I am convinced that my project will be of better quality when implementation these suggestions.