What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
My research group seeks to identify, evaluate, and promote policies and practices to develop biomedical innovation in an ethically and socially responsible manner. Recent advances in biological and medical research, such as regenerative medicine and stem cell research, DNA sequencing, genome editing, reproductive technologies, biobanking, and Big Data, continuously raise ethical and societal challenges: how can we translate biomedical innovations from basic research into clinical care and society in an ethically sound way?
Most rewarding for me is to proactively analyze the ethical and societal questions raised by the emerging biosciences and to offer moral guidance for researchers, clinicians, and patients in order to innovate in an ethically sound way. We conduct ‘ethics parallel research’, collaborating intensively with all groups involved, which is really interdisciplinary, challenging, and fun.
What led you to become involved with stem cell research?
The rapid developments in stem cell research raise multiple ethical challenges, way beyond the discussion regarding the moral status of the human embryo. That is how I got involved in this field. I have been working on the ethics of launching stem cell based trials, and currently we are doing quite some work in the ethics of organoid technology.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
That we ethically evaluate cutting edge technology. It is never boring, and we are provided with the possibility to travel to many countries, labs, and conferences.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
I would encourage people who want to to pursue a career in bioethics! Bioethics became a scholarly field that is very interdisciplinary and international. You need to be informed about recent developments in biomedicine, it involves classical ethics research, but you also use methods from the social sciences and anthropology. In addition, it touches on policy and political issues. So you need to have an open mind and be both widely interested as well as focused. It is a great but demanding job.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
There are many inspiring colleagues in bioethics. I have learned a lot from my bioethics supervisors prof Guido de Wert and prof Guido Pennings, but philosophers such as Hannah Arendt and John Rawls have inspired me in a broader sense.
How do you spend your free time?
As of 2015, I am member of Dutch Senate, which is a part-time political position which takes up about 15 hours a week. I was recently re-elected for the period 2019-2023 so this will consume much of my free time in the coming years. In addition, I have a 5 months old baby son Luca, I try to spend as much time as possible with him and my partner!
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
That I am also a politician!
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
That it brings me in contact with the best stem cell researchers the world has to offer. In addition, I am member of ISSCR’s fantastic Ethics Committee, that brings together leading ethicists and organizes yearly focus sessions at the ISSCR conferences.