University of Vermont

Maastricht Delegation’s Burlington Visit Strengthens Research Collaboration

Front row, from left: Charles Irvin, Ph.D.; Dean Frederick C. Morin III, M.D.; and Benjamin Suratt, M.D. Second row, from left: Rob de Bie, M.Sc., R.P.T., Ph.D.; Albert Scherpbier, M.D., Ph.D.; and Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D. Third Row, from left: Piet Daemen, M.P.M., and Emiel Wouters, M.D., Ph.D. Fourth row, from left: Jos van der Velden, Ph.D., and Albert van der Vliet, Ph.D. (Photo by Raj Chawla, UVM Medical Photography)

Four delegates from Netherlands-based Maastricht University visited the University of Vermont College of Medicine campus in late May to share information, generate ideas and plan future activities regarding the two institutions’ research and education collaborations.

UVM’s alliance with Maastricht, which originated fifteen years ago, was solidified in December 2007 when UVM signed an affiliation agreement with the Dutch institution and officially launched a broader and more comprehensive relationship.

Charles Irvin, Ph.D., UVM professor of medicine and director of the Vermont Lung Center, and Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., UVM professor of medicine, hosted the visiting representatives, including Emiel Wouters, M.D., Ph.D., chair of pulmonology and director of the Center for Chronic Diseases, Albert Scherpbier, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the faculty of health, medicine, and life sciences, Rob de Bie, M.Sc., R.P.T., Ph.D., program director in health sciences and professor of physiotherapy, and Piet Daemen, M.P.M., executive director of Maastricht University Medical Center. In meetings with UVM and Fletcher Allen Health Care leaders, faculty members, and students, the group discussed ways to strengthen existing research collaborations; extending the alliance into the broader health sciences; facilitating the exchange of graduate, undergraduate and medical students; and initiating communication about health care delivery.

Current joint research efforts focus on chronic respiratory diseases – especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) – as well as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. COPD – a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema – is highly prevalent in both the U.S. and the Netherlands. In Maastricht alone, nearly one quarter of all adults age 40 suffer from COPD, according to a June 2012 article coauthored by Wouters in Respiratory Medicine. Vermont Department of Health figures from 2005 show that 4.7 percent of Vermont adults reported having ever been diagnosed with COPD. Wouters will expand his work in this area with Irvin and Janssen-Heininger, and will also collaborate with Ralph Budd, M.D., UVM professor of medicine and director or immunobiology. In addition, de Bie will explore pulmonary rehabilitation projects through new collaborations with Patricia Prelock, Ph.D., dean of the UVM College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and the department of rehabilitation and movement sciences.

Educational exchanges – also a large part of the affiliation – were also a focus of the visit. Janssen-Heininger and Scherpbier are spearheading effort to establish a joint Ph.D. program, with strategic direction from UVM College of Medicine Dean Frederick C. Morin III, M.D., Irvin and Christopher Berger, Ph.D., UVM associate professor of molecular physiology and biophysics and director of graduate education. Maastricht’s Gerard Bos, M.D., Ph.D., will work with William Jeffries, Ph.D., UVM senior associate dean for medical education, and Tania Bertsch, M.D., associate dean for clinical education, in conjunction with Morin and Scherpbier, regarding elective clerkships for medical students. Sarah Abrams, Ph.D., associate dean in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and Prelock communicate with de Bie regarding undergraduate student internships. In addition, the two institutions aim to arrange visiting professorships to allow expertise exchange in such areas as Translational Research Initiatives, biobanking and cardiovascular disease, long distance education and public health, global health care, and health care systems, between UVM and Maastricht.

Jos van der Velden, Ph.D., UVM postdoctoral associate in the department of pathology, has been identified as the point person to manage the day-to-day operation of the alliance in Vermont.