Universiteit Leiden

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Drugs for our immune system in the right place at the right time

Immunologist Leender Trouw specialises in the complement system, which is part of the immune system. In some diseases drugs help activate or inhibit this system. This is best done ‘in the right place at the right time’ − the title of his inaugural lecture.

So the complement system is related to our immune system?

‘Yes, it is a series of proteins in the blood that protect us against infections but they can also stimulate inflammatory responses and cause cell death.’

And your research revolves around activating or inhibiting the complement system?

‘Yes, complement activation is needed in cancer therapy, for example, whereas in autoimmune diseases and transplants you need to inhibit that activation. We now use drugs that affect the whole body for longer, but that costs a lot of money and is not without health risks. Over the next few years, we want to explore how to deliver these drugs to the right place at the right time.’

You have worked in several LUMC departments: renal disease, rheumatology and now immunology.

‘That’s right. The complement system plays a role in various diseases.’

Why is your specialisation so interesting?

‘I stumbled across it when I was doing my PhD research and it soon had me gripped. A select group of people worldwide are working on the subject, a really nice group of people. We see each other at international meetings. And it is hugely inspiring to see knowledge being developed and to be able to contribute to that.’

And you want to bring all the research on the complement system at the LUMC together in the Leiden Complement Centre?

‘Yes, that is set to start this year and will hold its first meetings. It is not a physical centre but we want to bring together all our colleagues who are working on this. So pooling knowledge so we can achieve more.’

In your inaugural lecture, alongside the part on your research, you will devote a lot of time to other topics you consider important.

‘Yes, I wanted to take advantage of the podium I have during my inaugural lecture, a once-in-a-lifetime podium, to convey a message to my audience. I think we should invest in education in the Netherlands and abroad. We have to watch out or otherwise we will only have students with university-educated parents. I think it would be better for the future to have a broad group of students from different backgrounds.’

You write: ‘I think that someone needs to bang their fist on the table and say: That’s enough, let’s return to the content.’

‘In grant applications, you have to provide a disproportionate amount of other information alongside a section about the intended project. Given that most grant applications are rejected, this feels like such a waste of everyone’s time and energy.’

You broaden the scope of ‘In the right place at the right time’ to include child labour in garment factories in Bangladesh, young people in Gaza and floods caused by climate change: so in the wrong place at the wrong time. You would like to see a more active attitude?

‘At my inaugural lecture, there will be many professors in the room who all have interesting networks, that could help them achieve that bit more than the person on the street. We’re in a privileged position, but it’s disappointing how little we do with it − and that definitely includes me.’

What would you like to do?

‘The climate is somewhat removed from my day-to-day work, but I would like to do something with that, rather than just watching television and getting angry.’

You were already appointed Professor of Complement Biology and Therapy on 1 October 2022.

‘Yes, that’s because it’s taken a bit of time to catch up since the pandemic. Everyone wants theirs on a Friday afternoon so that lots of people can be there.’

Leendert Trouw will give his inaugural lecture ‘In the right place at the right time’ on 2 February.

Text: Thessa Lageman
Image: Unsplash.com/Myriam Zilles

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