Wiek van Gilst obtained his PhD in pharmacology in 1986 and was appointed professor of cardiovascular and clinical cardiology in 1995. Wiek founded and headed the department of Experimental Cardiology at the University Medical Center Groningen between 2008 and 2013. In parallel, Wiek was closely involved with the Interuniversity Cardiology Institute of the Netherlands (ICIN; now Netherlands Heart Institute), of which he was the director between 2003 and 2013. In recent years, he co-founded the Dutch CardioVascular Alliance (DCVA), which was officially launched in September 2018. Starting in November, Wiek will dedicate his efforts to directing the DCVA. We had the opportunity to discuss the mission and approach of the DCVA with Wiek, who affirms that Young@Heart is an integral part of the DCVA and is crucial for its success.
DCVA was established to address the increasing need of researchers to collaborate, explains Wiek, which is also stimulated by funding agencies so researchers start working together to achieve the best outcomes. “Greatly reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease is the main goal of all parties involved”, emphasizes Wiek, “but also providing correct information to the public is very important. Nowadays, people seem to think that we have almost cured cardiovascular diseases. While we have made great improvements to treatment options, we still have a long way to go before we can cure these diseases. Unfortunately, 100 people still succumb to cardiovascular diseases every day.”
Wiek states that “to prevent cardiovascular disease and improve the quality of life in patients, we must encourage teamwork between experts from various fields. The DCVA is doing this by investing in five priority topics: excellent science, valorization, implementation, data infrastructure, and talent.” Notably, Young@Heart is an important contributor to the last topic, which, according to Wiek, “is key to ensure continuity for the entire DCVA”. He states: “Young@Heart is the perfect platform to connect researchers in the early stages of their career and from all field of research or training with each other, but also with people outside of their own field. This will lead to very creative and fruitful collaborations, which are needed to find much needed solutions.”
Young researchers are important to DCVA. According to Wiek: “Young researchers that meet and discuss with other young bright people will foster valuable collaborations. Together, they come up with ideas that can be pitched to other stakeholders or consortia. In contrast to the prominent top-down approach of innovation demonstrated by professors that implement an idea, young researchers should also propose new ideas to their professor and convince them of their vision. In doing so, it will be easier to reach out to other groups and build a comprehensive network that will help each other when needed.”
Funding of the future
“When collaborative efforts become more elaborate, funding agencies will follow suit”, says Wiek. “Currently, funding agencies will allocate a sum of money to be distributed over a number of the best grant applications for a specific topic. Often, new lines of research are started based on the topics of the grants. This is a very outdated concept. Instead of researchers following the money, why not have the money follow successful scientific endeavors? I hope we can design a system that allows funding agencies to scout and support which ongoing projects are prosperous. That way researchers do not have to reinvent themselves for each new call, but can solidify their line of research and do what they do best, hopefully as part of consortium or other type of big collaboration to reach our common goal: greatly reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease.”