Gerald de Haan, PhD
ISEH Vice President
Dr. Gerald de Haan is scientific director for ERIBA (European Institute on the Biology of Aging) and professor in the Department of Stem Cell Biology at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands. As ISEH vice president, he is poised to succeed Dr. David Scadden as president in the 2011-2012 term. Dr. de Haan became enthralled with hematology in his undergraduate years at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in the late 1980s.
"As an undergraduate biology student, I spent time in Cameroon to study various aspects of malaria immunology,” he recounts. "Ever since then, I have been fascinated by blood biology. When I was offered a PhD position to work on red blood cell kinetics, this seemed like a very logical choice. I have not regretted this decision a single day.”
The University of Groningen and the University Medical Center Groningen decided several years ago to focus their research, education, and care activities on healthy aging. An important component of the strategic plan was to develop a strong research institute, focusing on the biology of aging, on the university premises – ERIBA. ERIBA research investigators are concerned with molecular mechanisms that are likely to contribute to cellular and organismal aging. These may range from chromosome biology (telomeres, DNA repair, sister chromatid differentiation and separation), regenerative medicine (self-renewal, reprogramming, cell fate decisions), protein folding (translation, aggregation, protein modifications, chaperones), energy metabolism (metabolomics, nutrition, oxygen radicals, mitochondria), immunity (immunesenescence, memory, clonality) to trancriptional regulation (histone and DNA modifications, nuclear transport).
The challenges – and the opportunities – of developing ERIBA are many.
"It is challenging to find the proper balance between staying involved in day-to-day activities in the lab and spending time to make sure we secure enough funds to keep the lab going,” Dr. de Haan shares. "These latter activities obviously include grant writing and travelling. Also, it is not trivial to find the best people for the various projects that we are involved in. We try to recruit our PhD students from those that spend a rotation on our lab, and therefore we need to do our best to attract good students.”
ISEH is an important part of Dr. de Haan’s career development.
"My first ISEH meeting was 1992 in Providence, R.I.,” he explains. "It was great to meet all those people whose papers I had read. This was the time when labs were chasing crucial growth factors and their receptors. It was a highly stimulating experience at a time halfway through my PhD project. It was also the occasion where I first met my later postdoctoral supervisor, Gary Van Zant.” Truly devoted to his science, Dr. de Haan acknowledges that it is important to spend time away from the lab and its responsibilities. "I spend most of my non-science hours with my family, which means that many of my weekends are filled with watching field hockey games,” Dr. de Haan shares. "I need those family moments to stay fresh, and would find it very difficult to perform well in science without.”