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On imagination in science: ‘A good researcher is also an inventor’

As far as Daniël Pijnappels, Professor of Cellular Electrophysiology, is concerned, both researching and inventing are essential for a scientist. On 15 September 2023, he will be giving his inaugural lecture, in which he will emphasise the importance of imagination and interdisciplinary collaboration. The latter also concerns his specialist subject: the heart.

Photo of Daniël Pijnappels
Daniël Pijnappels

The importance of imagination

Pijnappels believes that a scientist is not only a researcher, but also an inventor. And this requires imagination, which is a key part of his speech. ‘Traditionally, researchers try to understand their environment. In the biomedical field, for example, you try to understand a disease. As an inventor, you don't want to understand what you see around you so much as you want to create what you see before you. You want to realise a certain vision, something that you think will be useful to society. That’s where imagination comes in.’

Interdisciplinary approach

Much is still unknown about the heart, which is why certain heart diseases are often difficult to cure, especially when it comes to heart damage and arrhythmias. ‘This may be because the heart is an interdisciplinary organ. The combination of physics, biology, chemistry and engineering forms the basis of how the heart works. An interdisciplinary organ also has interdisciplinary problems. And, in my opinion, you have to solve these problems with an interdisciplinary medical approach. That is precisely why we have established a fully integrated interdisciplinary working and learning environment based on these different disciplines. Every day, biologists, physicians, physicists and engineers work together under one roof towards a shared goal – to create new biology and integrate it with technology to better understand and treat heart damage and arrhythmias,’ Pijnappels explains.

‘Synthetic biology also help us answer other questions, such as how we can enable the heart to repair damage and arrhythmias itself.’

New biology

Pijnappels goes on to explain the advantages of synthetic biology, as it is a truly inventive approach. ‘At the moment, we often try to understand how the disease develops in order to treat it – a typical research approach. Synthetic biology can also help us answer other questions, such as how we can enable the heart to actually repair damage and arrhythmias itself.’

To do this, the heart needs to acquire new properties, which Pijnappels’ group is trying to achieve through gene therapy. ‘So it’s not really regeneration so much as generation. For heart patients, these forms of therapy could possibly contribute to improving not only the quality of life, but also the prognosis, so that we humans can age healthily.’ In his lecture, Pijnappels will also address the various issues raised by these new possibilities.

Continuity and education

He will talk about the importance of continuity within a laboratory in order to maintain and further improve knowledge and skills, and will also emphasise the importance of imagination and interdisciplinary collaboration in modern education.

Professor Daniël Pijnappels’ inaugural lecture can be followed live on 15 September from 16.oo to 17.00 via this link.

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