21 November 2019

My name is Sander Leeuwenburgh, professor of Regenerative Biomaterials at the Department of Dentistry, theme Reconstructive and regenerative medicine. My research aims to decipher which physicochemical properties of biomaterials are able to trigger the natural self-healing capacity of hard tissues. 

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your child years? 

As a kid my main ambition was to become the third Dutch cyclist winning the Tour de France. As adolescent my major ambition was to play a piano concerto of Rachmaninov. Although I truly enjoy cycling in the mountains or playing the piano, both ambitions still remain to be realized.

What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why that study?
I studied Materials Science & Engineering at Delft University of Technology since I enjoyed both chemistry and physics at secondary school. In the second half of my studies in Delft I became intrigued by the fascinating interface between synthetic and living matter in biomaterials research. Since I missed the interaction with biologists and clinicians in Delft, I moved to Radboudumc. Here, I combined my PhD study in bioceramics with my study at the conservatory of Arnhem (piano). I have never regretted that choice.

The RIMLS motto is: ‘Today’s molecules for tomorrow’s medicine’. What does this mean for you?
I enjoy the translation of molecular concepts in biomaterials science towards practical applications in biomedicine. Regeneration of hard tissues is frequently compromised by diseases such as infection, osteoporosis or cancer. To combat such degenerative conditions, biomaterials are increasingly exploited as vehicle for local delivery of therapeutic biomolecules to stimulate tissue regeneration.

Who is your great example as scientists? And why?
My talent for adoration is rather limited. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciate scientists who are able to combine strong scientific and social skills such as Otto Boerman (Radboudumc), Jan van Hest (TU/e) and Sybrand van der Zwaag (TU Delft). Within my research area I consider David Mooney (Harvard) as a leading scientist, since he is consistently able to bridge the huge gap between materials science and biology. Historically, I appreciate the humbleness of great scientists who realize that “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know” (Einstein). However, above all and everyone, I truly adore the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach. I can still grasp the brilliance of the greatest scientists, but Bach’s genius simply goes beyond my understanding and imagination. 

Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud?

I am proud of my contributions to the field of self-healing biomaterials. This field of research is still in its infancy, but some of my studies show that self-healing biomaterials exhibit attractive properties for biomedical applications that deserve further exploration. 

Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?

I would organize a Manhattan Project in biomaterials science. I envisage that the true challenges in our field can be solved much more efficiently, effectively and rapidly via such a collective and collaborative approach instead of the current competition-based and scattered organization of public-private R&D.

What does your working area look like and what does it say about you or your research?

My desk is meticulously clean, which means I don’t like stuff.

Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight:

I would like to ask Nico Sommerdijk what his recent transfer from TU/e to Radboudumc has learned him about science and life in general.

What type of person are you? Quick insights:

a) Mac or PC?                               : PC
b) Theater or cinema?                : Cinema
c) Dine out or dine in?                : Dine out
d) Ferrari or Fiat?                         : Race or mountain bike
e) Shopaholic or chocoholic?     : None (I don’t like stuff)
f) Culture or Nature                     : Nature

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