Quality of life

Research and education at UM have been thematic, multidisciplinary, and inspired by social themes. UM distinguishes itself by focusing on three main research themes (i.e. ‘Quality of life’, ‘Europe and a Globalising World’, and ‘Learning and innovation’) which are studied on the basis of different disciplines at all relevant levels.

Quality of life is an interdisciplinary research programme that focuses on the well-being of individuals in the context of a safe, healthy, sustainable and financially secure society. An important infrastructure of this research programme is situated on the Maastricht Health Campus. This Campus is home to the largest academic health science cluster in Europe, which serves the entire health continuum from top referral and top clinical care to prevention and rehabilitation. The research excels in four key areas: cardiovascular diseases,mental health and neurosciences, metabolic aspects of chronic diseases, and primary care and health sciences.

Hemker’s brains

Wednesday, 07 June 2017 12:45

“I remember a sign in your room that says, ‘Science is difficult, people are impossible’.” “That’s right,” chuckles Coen Hemker, “a gift from my professor in Oxford.” Anecdotes and memories tumble over one another in the discussion about the PhD training of Marja van Dieijen, professor of Clinical Chemistry and president of MUMC +. In January 1981, she earned her PhD under professor emeritus of Biochemistry, Coen Hemker, who at 82 is still knee-deep in science.

Pauline Hakutangwi had never heard of Maastricht, let alone Maastricht University. Born in Zimbabwe but resident in the UK since the age of 10, she nevertheless headed for the South Limburg city in 2013 to pursue her master’s in Global Health. “It turned out to be ideal. The programme has given me a solid foundation to achieve my goal: improving the health of vulnerable groups of people.”

The amount of data produced by scientists increases by one third every year, according to the European Commission. How can they find their way around this mountain of data? This is the key question intriguing the new distinguished university professor of Data Science, Michel Dumontier. The 41-year-old Canadian researcher is relocating to Maastricht from the prestigious Stanford University, where he focused on discovering new drugs and precision medicine.

Twelve November it is World Pneumonia Day. Camielle Noordam did PhD research on pneumonia in children in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite improved access to healthcare, every year millions of children die before reaching their 5th birthday. Those in sub-Saharan Africa have the highest risk of mortality. Infections form the biggest threat, and of these, pneumonia is the most prevalent. Camielle Noordam spent many years living and working in Africa. Here she discusses the obstacles to proper medical care.

On beetroot juice and Brabant

In Body
Wednesday, 05 October 2016 10:19

If you’re accustomed to approaching your professors with awe, it comes as something of a surprise when your PhD supervisor encourages you to use his first name, puts his feet up on the table as you brainstorm study designs together, and prefers you to just drop by rather than emailing in advance. Professor Luc van Loon’s style has grown on his PhD candidate Jean Nyakayiru, but it took some getting used to. “We did have to beat out of him that formal style of address”, Van Loon laughs. Nyakayiru hopes to defend his thesis in Maastricht next year.

Tackling the diabetes epidemic

In Body
Tuesday, 07 June 2016 14:04

The ‘Maastricht Study’, launched in 2010, reveals that the number of people in the preliminary phase of diabetes is much higher than initially thought: roughly a million people in the Netherlands alone. “We’re living in a time in which we can justifiably call diabetes an epidemic”, says Professor Coen Stehouwer, the director of the unique study. The researchers suspect that, beyond lifestyle-related factors, other factors are at play here. The study will run until 2019, but the preliminary results are unequivocal: “We’re living in a time in which we can justifiably call diabetes an epidemic.”

A scientific crush

Thursday, 12 May 2016 10:33

From the very first contact, the feeling was mutual: this is the kind of person I want to work with. After a six-month internship in Professor Ron Heeren’s group at the AMOLF institute, Karolina Skraskova knew she couldn’t return to the Czech Republic, where she had originally started her PhD. When Heeren offered her a new position, she gladly accepted. In her final year the entire research group moved from Amsterdam to Maastricht, and this is where, on 3 March 2016, she defended her PhD thesis.

E-health for pregnant women: a success story

In Body
Friday, 26 February 2016 08:22

Pregnant women who drink alcohol, or who suffer from psychological and emotional symptoms, are more at risk for a wide range of problems. How do you support women who may not be feeling quite right, or who cannot give up alcohol for nine months? With an E-health program, according to research at Maastricht University. On Thursday, 3 March, two candidates will give back-to-back defences of their theses, both of which are on research into the use of e-health in the care of pregnant women. This is purely a coincidence, because they had never met before this interview.

Yvonne Fontein was originally a midwife and had her own practice until 2008. Today, she works as a lecturer and researcher with the Midwifery programme at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. Fontein is a PhD candidate within the Midwifery Science research group at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences. She examined the use of a tailor-made website with practical tips that pregnant women can use to determine whether they are feeling good psychologically and emotionally, what factors throw them off balance and how they can best manage it all (coping mechanisms). In addition, the participating midwives discussed the issue with even greater emphasis than they normally do with pregnant women. The intervention ‘WazzUp Mama’ appeared to have a significant positive effect on pregnant women: they felt better about themselves than women who received no special attention on the subject from their midwife. “One of the things that surprised me in the study, is that it is highly dependent on the affinity that a midwife has for the psychological aspects of a pregnancy, whether there’s focus on it in their practice. And that often has to do with work experience; how you see the total picture of the pregnancy and not just the medical or biological aspects.”

A glass per week
Nickie van der Wulp got into alcohol research through social psychology. Today, she is director of the Korsakov Knowledge Centre, which is committed to providing quality care to patients with Korsakoff’s syndrome. Her research was commissioned by the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy (STAP) to examine how you can help pregnant women who drink alcohol to stop drinking during their pregnancy. “The women who participated in the research drank on average one glass per week. There is no safe lower limit, because we don’t know what the effect is of a single sip or glass, so we’re committed to zero consumption.” The website negenmaandenniet.nl gave interactive feedback on the knowledge level of pregnant women about alcohol use during pregnancy and provided recommendations. “We saw that the group that received feedback via the website stopped drinking more often than those who received feedback from midwives and especially more often than those who received no special intervention. My theory is that pregnant women didn’t dare to be honest with the midwives. It was even difficult for midwives to discuss the topic again during the second and third measurements. Annoyed reactions like: ‘I've already said that I don’t drink anymore!’, make it difficult for them to proceed.”

The role of the partner
Both PhD candidates are very aware of the workload of midwives and the fact that their research questions came on top of an already heavy workload. Van der Wulp is still adamant: “They currently ask whether you smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, but I think that’s too limited. You should also ask if someone drank before the pregnancy and how much. If they drank regularly, they’re more likely to drink during the pregnancy. And if the partner continues drinking and even says that it doesn’t matter if his pregnant wife drinks, the risk is also higher. I thought that was notable from my research: the role of the partner is very important.” Van der Wulp also noted that some midwives still underestimate the problem of alcohol use during pregnancy. Fontein: “And they often underestimate their own influence on pregnant women. While they’re often very willing to adapt their lifestyle if it’s in the interest of the baby.”
Every year in the Netherlands, six hundred babies are born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): they have distinctive facial features, are smaller, have brain damage and more. “For children with behavioural problems or ADHD, we don’t know to what extent this could be caused by alcohol. There are so many women who drink alcohol during pregnancy, which is so harmful to the development of the foetus; that was an incredible motivation for me.” Fontein: “My motivation was that a pregnancy is not all roses for everyone and I think that’s a pity, because most women don’t experience many. And I see enormous improvements that can be made in prenatal care, by better observing and listening to what the pregnant women need. With the best intentions, midwives tend to fill in the women’s experiences. But you have to be very focused on what the woman needs.” Van der Wulp: “I have a lot of respect for the profession, but the knowledge about alcohol could be much better. Especially highly educated pregnant women sometimes want to have a drink and with them in particular you have to use very good arguments to convince them that it’s harmful.”

No solid figures
The problem is, of course, that there are no rock solid figures on how much alcohol is harmful. This also applies to ‘maternal distress’ during pregnancy. What is known is that one in four or five women in the Netherlands suffer from it each year, which is approximately 35,000. Potential consequences of this are a greater fear of childbirth, postpartum depression or severe prolonged psychological complaints. The child can also suffer from it, in terms of birth weight and subsequent behavioural or developmental problems. Factors that make women the most out of balance during pregnancy, as is shown in Fontein’s research, have to do with purely the expectation of having a(nother) child. “That’s also related to the role of working mothers nowadays and everything they have on their plate. Even with a second child, it may increase the amount of stress in that area. Also if the woman had previously had psychological symptoms, there was more stress during pregnancy. One of the most important ‘coping mechanisms’ was talking about your worries or problems. And in that case more with loved ones than with the midwives. That was also then encouraged through the site.”

The site www.negenmaandenniet.nl was expanded using a ZonMW grant from a research version to a public version. “Every pregnant woman should visit the website," says Van der Wulp. The future of www.wazzupmama.nl is still being considered.

Yvonne Fontein is a lecturer and researcher with the Midwifery programme at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. On Thursday, 3 March at 16.00 at Maastricht University, she will defend her thesis entitled ‘Wazzup Mama! The development of an intervention to reduce preventable and maternal distress during pregnancy’.
Nickie van der Wulp is director of the Korsakov Knowledge Centre. On Thursday, 3 March at 14.00 at Maastricht University, she will defend her thesis entitled ‘Zero for nine: Reducing alcohol use during pregnancy through health counselling and Internet-based computer-tailored feedback’.

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