Universiteit Leiden

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Interdisciplinary programmes

Eight interdisciplinary programmes were launched at Leiden University in 2020. They focus on intensifying interdisciplinary collaboration throughout the University, and respond to issues affecting the world today and agendas such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The programmes came about following a joint proposal submitted by the deans of the seven faculties of the University, and will receive funding from the Board of the University for a period of four years. The intention is to use other financial resources to continue them after this period.

Society Artificial Intelligence and Life Sciences (SAILS)

Using artificial intelligence to tackle societal challenges

Coordinator: Professor Aske Plaat

Artificial intelligence (AI) has radically changed the world around us, and this is only expected to increase in the future. AI helps us make difficult decisions, understand human speech, and discover and develop drugs. It can also detect diseased tissue in scans, help find new particles, track down new archaeological sites from the air and help land aircraft in difficult conditions. And it even determines what kind of news we see and beats us in complex games such as Go.

AI shows great promise, both within and outside academia, but this technology also raises ethical and legal issues. With SAILS, Leiden University is investing across the full breadth of the disciplines that it covers into research into AI: both the technology itself and its impact on society.

See also: SAILS website.

Museums, Collections and Society

On the dynamics and implications of collecting

Coordinator: Professor Pieter ter Keurs

In this programme, the University and various partners are researching the dynamics and implications of collecting in all its different facets. People have always been collectors: of trophies, family photos, artworks and stories. By collecting, we decide what is worth being preserved, looked at and remembered – and what we want to hide, destroy and forget. By collecting, we give shape and meaning to the world and how we fit in it. This means that collecting is not just an individual affair, but also a social and political phenomenon that plays a fundamental role in the development of history, culture and identity. As a consequence, museums and other public collections are subject to complex political discussions such as whether exhibits are in their rightful place and whose culture and history is actually being displayed.

Social Resilience and Safety

Harnessing interdisciplinary knowledge for a safer and more resilient society

Coordinators: Professor Anne-Laura van Harmelen and Professor Marieke Liem

As our society grows and becomes increasingly complex, it is critical that we better understand how we can improve societal and personal security, and resilience against threats to our security (for example in the form of transgressive behaviours). Efforts that increase security and resilience not only help reduce the presence of violence in society, but also have the potential to lower educational under-attainment, poor economic outcomes and the burgeoning mental health crisis.

Over the past two decades, knowledge about transgressive behaviours threatening our security have greatly increased, with direct applications in Philosophy, Archaeology, Psychology, Education, Law, Governance, Conflict, and Cooperation. At the same time, transgressive behaviours have largely been studied in relative isolation, according to one disciplinary angle at a time. As transgressive behaviours transect disciplinary boundaries, multi- and interdisciplinary approaches are needed to fully understand the etiology of transgressive behaviours.

The Social Security and Resilience programme at Leiden University brings together experts from the Faculties of Archaeology, Law, Social Sciences, Governance and Global Affairs, and Humanities. Together with a large network of international experts, the programme seeks to better identify, prevent and reduce the causes and consequences of transgressive behaviours in society.  

For more information see website Social Resilience and Security.

Citizenship and Global Transformations

How phenomena that transcend national borders affect European citizenship

Coordinators: Professor Olaf van Vliet and Professor Antoaneta Dimitrova

The European Union faces diverse issues, from globalisation to migration and from technological innovation to climate change. These put pressure on solidarity among the member states. Take the rise of social media: this can cause social cohesion to drop and polarisation to rise within the EU. We also need to find a good way to share the cost of climate change and admitted immigrants among the member states. These urgent yet complex issues are best explored by interdisciplinary teams of researchers with a background in economics, international relations, law, history, public administration and more. That is why the faculties are working together on this programme.

See also: Citizenship, Migration and Global Transformation research programme.

Population Health

Using data analysis to improve healthcare

Coordinators: Mattijs Numans, Andrea Evers, Sandra Groeneveld, Jet Bussemaker, Wessel Kraaij and Frits Rosendaal

Population health is the study of the transition from health to disease in the population and how to reduce the likelihood of disease. At the Population Health Living Lab on Campus The Hague, use is made of data from the medical and social domains. Researchers from various disciplines work with technologies and analysis methods from data science, epidemiology, biostatistics and social sciences to help promote population health management. They determine which sub-groups require less or more care, which allows for proactive and personalised interventions. This can improve population health, reduce costs and improve satisfaction about the quality of care. An emphatic scientific grounding to these activities will help make a sustainable and future-proof healthcare system. Researchers from the different disciplines at Leiden University work together at LUMC Campus The Hague to address these issues.

Drug Discovery and Development

New drugs thanks to interdisciplinary collaboration

Coordinators: Professor Henk Jan Guchelaar and Professor Hubertus Irth

Researchers from Leiden conduct unique and internationally excellent research in the field of drug discovery and development. The research focuses on new clues, molecules and concepts that could lead to the development of innovative drugs and diagnostic tests. Researchers with an outstanding international reputation are active in specific areas within these three themes. The interdisciplinary approach together with the availability of biobanks, patient databases and drug production facilities are essential to the discovery of new disease mechanisms and drug targets and the development of high-quality drugs. Investment in this area will strengthen the links at the Leiden Bio Science Park.

Regenerative Medicine

Healing patients by regenerating organs, tissue and cells

Coordinator: Professor Ton Rabelink and Professor Bob van de Water

Regenerative medicine holds the promise of functional recovery of diseased organs, tissue and cells. Diseases that are currently chronic, with all the associated costs and burdens, may be cured in the future. Regenerative medicine is expected to contribute significantly to revolutionary changes in healthcare, driving multiple areas of basic and translational research not only in life sciences and health but also in ethics, creating legal frameworks, logistics and building economic funding models. Manipulating (stem) cells so that they form clinically relevant tissues or even entire organs inside or outside the body and combining this with knowledge of cell biology, genetics, biomaterials, nanotechnology, production of therapeutics under Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) conditions, and advanced imaging modalities will lead to realizing the full potential of emerging regenerative medicine technologies. The same knowledge and technology for regenerative medicine will be applied to resolving the increasing demand for representative cellular model systems to investigate mechanisms of human disease and identify innovative therapeutic agents. Interdisciplinary expertise from LUMC and the Faculty of Science will synergize in Leiden to bring regenerative solutions to patients with an unmet need.

See also: Regenerative Medicine website.

Liveable Planet – Sustainable Futures

Policy change for a sustainable world

Coordinator: Professor Arnold Tukker

Climate change is one of the key political themes of today. In this programme, researchers from Leiden University will work towards a society that uses energy and raw materials in such a way to preserve our natural capital and minimise the impact on our health. The researchers will begin by looking at how natural and economic ecosystems function and what impact they have on our health and natural capital. They will also research how social stimuli influence the human ecosystem. This will enable them to consider new forms of government policy and transition management that will help create a more sustainable society.

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