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

Knowledge of the brain for a safer and more efficient society

Coordinator: Professor Eveline Crone

In recent years, researchers have learned much more about the human brain, cognition and behaviour. We already know something about how the brain learns, how we collaborate – or end up in conflict – with others, and how and why some people exhibit transgressive behaviour. This kind of knowledge is extremely valuable to a liveable, resilient and safe society.

If we have a good understanding of where certain human behaviour originates from, we can improve how we prevent and punish transgressive behaviour. Applied knowledge of the learning brain can also be of great help in making our educational system smarter. With knowledge about how people collaborate, how they behave in conflict situations and how this behaviour has developed evolutionarily, we can help businesses and institutions in society.  

By working together, researchers from Leiden aim to bring the results of brain research closer to society over the coming years.

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: Dr Marc Bruijnzeels and Professor Jessica Kiefte

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 Bob van de Water

Regenerative medicine promises to regenerate organs, tissue and cells. In future, it may even be possible to cure diseases that are now chronic and bring with them related costs and problems. This would bring about a healthcare revolution. The LUMC has been a pioneer in regenerative medicine for over half a century already, since we performed the first European bone marrow transplant in 1965 and the first kidney transplant in 1966. In the future, Leiden University hopes to use advanced cell therapy to cure diabetes and other chronic conditions too, so that patients will no longer depend on day-to-day care.

See also: LUMC 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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