Kim Van Der Heiden (NHLI)
17 March 2010
Dr Kim van der Heiden, who was awarded the prestigious Promega UK Young Life Scientist Award for 2009, talks about her fascination with cells and tissues, leaving her home in the Netherlands, and the role that broccoli has to play in her research.
How did you get into science?
I started out by training to become a lab technician in Holland. I thought I wanted to do chemistry, but in the first two weeks of my three-year course my teachers gave me a microscope to look at cells and tissues and it was love at first sight.
What did you like about your PhD?
I did a four-year PhD at the Leiden University Medical Centre, looking at how a certain type of cell in blood vessels can distinguish between different kinds of blood flow using a tiny cellular hair. It was fascinating for me, because it’s not just biology, it’s also bioengineering. It’s a real challenge to combine these two fields – I could explain things about cells to the bioengineers, and the bioengineers could tell me how to determine and calculate blood flow-induced forces.
Why did you decide to move to the UK?
My PhD supervisor suggested I should think about working abroad. I knew I wanted to go somewhere, and I’ve always liked the English language. America was too far but London is only a 40-minute plane journey from Amsterdam. I got a position at Imperial, sold my flat in Holland and moved.
What do you do here at Imperial?
I investigate the role of inflammation in a disease called atherosclerosis that affects blood vessels. In this disease, plaques form on the inner curves of bent blood vessels but not on the outer curves. We have found that there is a protein called Nrf2 in the outer curve, protecting the blood vessel in that area. We have recently managed to activate this protein using a compound found in broccoli, to protect the inner curve of the blood vessel from disease.
How different is it working in the UK compared to Holland?
In my lab in Holland most of my colleagues were Dutch, but here we have people from Pakistan, Germany, Syria, Vietnam and the UK. It’s an interesting mix of cultures – that’s something I really like about the lab and about London.
— Lucy Goodchild, Communications