Portrait and video Wouter Serdijn: "It is in the shared fascination with the problem that we find each other"

Thursday, December 9, 2021

For people with heart, nerve and brain disorders, bioelectronic medicine can make a significant difference. Professor Wouter Serdijn works on these tiny devices. He is a professor at TU Delft and, thanks to Medical Delta, now at Erasmus MC as well. "Technical disciplines often use objective measures, while no two people are the same. It is therefore important to include the subjective side in the design."

In the video below, Wouter Serdijn tells about his Medical Delta professorship:

"I have always worked together a lot, but with my appointment in Rotterdam this has become more formalised," says Serdijn. "I now also have the 'right' to walk around there and am part of the information flow. This structure fits in well with how I am used to working. Not starting from existing pigeonholes, but working together at an umbrella level. Medical Delta is a bundle of great people, both technical, medical and clinical-academic. The engineer, medical scientist and therapist form a triangle. Together they can develop what is best for a patient."

How did your interest in the medical field emerge?

"For my graduation project, I worked on hearing aids together with a technology company. I experienced that something that met the technical specifications perfectly, could be totally unpleasant to listen to, and thus collided with the boundaries of the technical domain. Technical disciplines often assume objective measures, while no two people are the same and an individual person will be different tomorrow. It is therefore important to include the subjective side in the design.

How do you contribute to medical science with your knowledge of bioelectronics?

"I do not know exactly how the body works, but I can help measure, examine and control it. I can read and write nerve tracts. One example we are working on is helping people with paralysis regain their posture when sitting or standing and a rudimentary form of walking. This can now be done mainly with a wheelchair or other aids. But I want to know how we can re-energize their own muscles that are still intact but no longer controlled. How can we restore the connection between the brain and muscles? We are about to start clinical trials for this.

I also want to contribute to implantable technology that someone can wear invisibly as much as possible. For example, the so-called cochlear implant. This device enables a deaf person to hear and therefore to develop speech. But these implants still have an external part. You have to take it off when you go swimming or take a shower, for example, and then you don't hear anything anymore. I want to improve that. Though you can engage in conversations with this implant, you cannot listen to music. That can even be a very unpleasant experience. I think that is a shame; not being able to enjoy music is truly a loss. I want to tackle that as well."

How do you see Medical Delta in the future?

"In ten years, Medical Delta will be a scientific plateau. With connections and prestige in The Netherlands, Europe and perhaps the rest of the world. It will be the nerve centre of a lot of activities. The educational component also plays an important role, for example, with the clinical technology degree programme. Very good things and people are already coming out of this and I have high expectations of them. Because science is one part, but training new talent in the combined disciplines, that is the multiplier. Each year, we now have almost a hundred new graduates. They will soon have a greater impact than the Medical Delta professors of today. They are the future."

What is your advice for successful collaboration?

"Stay connected with where you originate from. That is where your value and your strength lies. You have to build a bridge, but stay true to what you are good at. Also, in collaboration, there must be a genuine mutual interest and you must both benefit from it. If you go up to someone and say 'I need this piece of technology from you' or 'this technology needs to go into a patient', it doesn't work. It takes time to understand what is happening on the other side and what the problems are. You also have to find a common language. With me, for example, everything is straight. The components, my diagrams. In biology, everything is curved, for example, cells, tissues and organs. You have to find a way of dealing with it. It is in the shared fascination with the problem that we find each other."

Which other researcher surprised you?

"Multiple researchers, but Chris de Zeeuw of Erasmus MC keeps surprising me. It is an important reason for choosing his department for my second appointment as a professor. He is an inspiring leader. He has great scientific knowledge and knows how to create a group and offer opportunities. He sees the importance of other disciplines for his own and was perhaps generation zero of Medical Delta."

This article is part of a series in which we highlight the nine new Medical Delta professors. Click here for the other portraits that have been published so far. Wouter Serdijn's research contributes to scientific programs, including, including Medical NeuroDelta: Ambulant Neuromonitoring for Prevention and Treatment of Brain Disease and Medical Delta Cardiac Arrhythmia Lab.

Cookie consent

This website uses cookies. Cookies are textfiles that are stored on the users harddrive when they visit a website, they are used to make websites function efficiently and serve information to the the owner of the website. Please accept the cookies to use the website properly.