New Professor Daniël Pijnappels will focus on interdisciplinary and translational cardiology


Daniël Pijnappels was appointed Professor of Cellular Electrophysiology at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) on March 1, 2022. In the coming years, he will focus on interdisciplinary and translational cardiology. He will especially focus on the development of new (synthetic) biology. He wants to integrate this with the technology in the long run to let the heart itself repair muscle damage and a disturbed rhythm.

Pijnappels (1980) started his PhD research in 2005 at the Department of Heart Disease. He completed his research in the United States, after which in the summer of 2009 he defended his thesis (cum laude). Pijnappels has been the head of the experimental cardiology laboratory since 2011.

Start laboratory experimental cardiology

Since 2011, a lot has changed in and around his lab. “Our research focuses on the development and treatment of heart damage and arrhythmias. These are interdisciplinary problems, and therefore we have gathered all the necessary disciplines in the laboratory to develop an effective interdisciplinary approach, ”says Pijnappels. “Furthermore, the arrival of the CardioVascular Intervention Center (CVIC) – right next to the laboratory – is obviously wonderful when it comes to translational research”.

Team spirit

Pijnappels has managed to assemble a very enthusiastic, ambitious and skilled team of analysts, doctors, biologists, physicists and engineers. Together, they have already been able to take great strides. “For example, we have created new (human) tissue cultures and computer models of heart damage and arrhythmias to test new treatments. These treatments were often based on cell or gene therapy, where the results were also regularly captured by various news media. It resulted in reaching a wide audience, ”he says.

The next five years: new biology to repair heart damage and arrhythmias

At present, an adult human heart cannot repair itself after injury, or defibrillate itself if its rhythm is disturbed. Pijnappels expects that the human heart will one day be able to end its own arrhythmias. After all, the heart generates all its own electricity so that it can contract and pump blood. This bioelectricity forms the basis of the therapy that his group is investigating. “To enable this restoration of rhythm, my team will create new biology over the next five years. We want to integrate these with the necessary technology to not only create completely new research opportunities, but also to explore new treatment options.

In 2016, he received an ERC Starting Grant for previous research on this topic. He also recently received an ERC Consolidator grant. “The idea is to make a mini-implant that registers and corrects arrhythmias by activating an LED light. This light ensures that light-sensitive proteins – which have been introduced into the heart muscle cells with gene therapy as a form of new biology – generate an electric current that restores the heart rhythm immediately and without pain.

Generative medicine

“Ultimately, I want to understand how the heart can be enabled to repair itself in the form of tissue damage and arrhythmias. And how it can prevent this in the end at all. So we are not talking so much about regenerative medicine, but more about generative medicine: Letting the heart grow into an organ with new desirable properties so that it stays healthy for a longer period of time, “says Pijnappels. In cardiac arrhythmias, his team uses a combination of light-sensitive proteins and gene therapy, LED technology from Delft University of Technology (TUD) and computer simulations. With this, they investigate how the heart can defibrillate itself by producing bioelectricity, and how this can be realized in the clinic. ”

Broad collaboration

“I will also argue for a future-proofing of the interdisciplinary nature of research. For this type of research, it is crucial that the necessary disciplines are anchored in the organization through staff and facilities. For example, I focus on intensifying the collaboration with Delft University of Technology (TUD) further. For example, a department of TUD in LUMC could be an important step. Broader collaboration with other departments within LUMC is also of great importance in this connection, as well as with Leiden Bio Science Park and with training in interdisciplinary and translational biomedical research. ”

Photo by: Josje Deekens

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