10 August 2020
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BBMRI.nl interview series: Aad van der Lugt

In order to showcase the variety of work in BBMRI.nl, we dedicate special news items to BBMRI.nl investigators. We ask them about their work for BBMRI.nl. What excites and challenges them the most, especially during the present COVID-19 pandemic? And how do they see the future for our activities?

Prof. Aad van der Lugt at a digital PhD ceremony

What is your job title and what does your day-to-day job imply?

I am professor of neuroradiology and head/neck radiology and since 2 months director of research and education of the department of Radiology & Nuclear medicine at the Erasmus MC, University Medical Centre Rotterdam. My day to day job is, on the one hand, the supervision of the research in my own research line, which is currently acute stroke, and, on the other hand, the management of the research infrastructure in our department. We try to help researchers with administrative, legal and financial support which gives them the opportunity to focus on their core business.

What is the focus of your work within the BBMRI.nl project?

I am responsible for the imaging components in biobanking activities. This means - an outreach to demonstrate the scientific relevance of advance imaging in all biobanking activities, not only in population studies, but also in clinical studies. This involves not only image data capture, but also cataloguing the available data, harmonisation of data acquisition and data analysis.

How does this relate to your other work/projects/activities?

My work in BBMRI.nl is actually an extension of what I am currently doing in my own department and also based on experiences with the cohort studies in Rotterdam (Rotterdam study and Generation R, MR CLEAN Studies). A nation-wide infrastructure is crucial for my own research, but also for multiple other research projects since sharing of data and collaboration of groups is nowadays a prerequisite for scientific breakthroughs.

What do you enjoy the most about your work on the project?

In my view, within BMMRI.nl we work on the frontline of research by defining new routes to success. Overall, working together with highly motivated and smart people and sharing the same vision is rewarding. I like to absorb and integrate expertise from other domains in my own projects. 

What is challenging about your work?

Convincing others that collaboration will lead to better results than working separately from each other. Working together is of course more difficult, but also more rewarding.  

What do you think is the importance of the project for the wider field of data sharing and health research?

Data sharing has been on the research agenda for years. In my view, BBMRI.nl was one of the first initiatives that has pushed this development and has created routes to successful collaboration. The genetic revolution has demonstrated the relevance of data sharing and nowadays the AI revolution will further increase the demand for data. BBMRI.nl has led the foundation, which will hopefully result in extension and use of the current infrastructure to all health research. 

What makes BBMRI.nl unique in your view?

It is an inclusive infrastructure. The field I represent (imaging) was not present from the start but was easily integrated in the current organisation. It is a supportive infrastructure which has the ambition to help researchers. It has a clear vision about data protection, data sharing the future of health science. Most importantly, not only in words but also in actions.

Which BBMRI.nl product or accomplishment would you highlight as deserving more attention, and why?

I am proud of the image data capture platform and the helpdesk. This platform has gone live 10 years ago. It has been supporting many research projects and was actually unique by offering a secure safe storage for imaging acquired in multicentre studies. I have the feeling that much more projects can benefit from using this platform. I am afraid that relevant scientific image data will be lost without proper storage. I am, from that perspective, also pleased to be able to support the bioimaging community as a member the Health-RI Science and Technology Board.

How do you foresee the future for the BBMRI.nl activities?

Research starts with a good research question and methodology. Then, data collection starts and BMMRI.nl should pop up as the entrance to expertise and infrastructure for collecting, storing and analysing data. What most of the researchers ignore is the need for fairification of data. In other words: You should wake up with BBMRI.nl and go to bed with BBMRI.nl.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted your work?

I live close to the Erasmus MC - 30 minutes walking, and have my own office. Most research projects could proceed because most of the PhD students could continue their research with available data. With access from home to the systems in the University, data analysis was able to continue as well. Of course, regular meetings are now taking place by teleconferences. The most important change is the cancelation of national and international meetings. To be honest, it actually created more time for more relevant interaction with research partners. 

What new emerging opportunities do you observe created by the present COVID-19 pandemic?

COVID-19 has resulted in tremendous number of interesting research projects. Most of the projects asked for access to available data and I have the impression that the old barriers no longer exist and that more people realise the urgent need for a good infrastructure for data sharing. COVID-19 has already resulted in new initiatives which will hopefully be instrumental in creating a firm base for future collaboration in other domains.