Dr Carolien van de Sandt
Research Fellow, Department of Microbiology & Immunology
What does your research focus on and why is it important?
My research focusses on how our immune system fights viral infections like influenza and SARS-CoV-2 throughout our life - from the moment you are born until you are very old. Children can cope very well with seasonal and pandemic viruses and form immunological memory which will help protect them when they become adults. However, when you get to that old age, your immune system tends to forget how to recognise and eliminate those infections, increasing the risk for severe disease. Hence it is important to understand how we can form good memory and maintain it when we get older, so we are protected from severe infections, even at an old age - this is the focus of my research.
What was your first job in Biomedical Sciences?
After finishing my masters I continued as a PhD student, followed by a post-doctoral position. I have worked in several laboratories in the Netherlands and in Australia.
How do you see your area of research evolving in the next five years?
The human population is ageing, currently about 12% of the population is 60 or older, but by 2020 (so in less than 30 years) this number will almost have doubled to 22%. Ageing comes with increased risk for severe diseases including infections, cancer, and autoimmunity. It will thus become more important to understand how we can improve our health at an old age to prevent severe disease. I think this will be one of the main challenges for the coming decades. In addition, the modern world has now experienced its first major pandemic - hopefully people are aware that we will need to prepare for the next one so our lives will not be disrupted as much. So, the field of infectious diseases and especially virological research, vaccine development, virus detection in humans and animals, and prevention of transmission will be key research areas.