A Personal Touch of Peter Deen

Peter Deen.jpg

Please learn more about colleagues in our "Personal Touch" series setting employees in the spotlight. A light-hearted manner to learn about the colleagues you know and those you don't!.

This week: Peter Deen






1. Name, nationality, current function, department & theme?
My parents named me Peter Deen and I come from the Bovenkarspel’s (Dutch) clay ground. I am with the Physiology department from 1992 onwards and am officially a member of the theme Renal Disorders.. However, I focus on the role of mitochondria, its metabolites and receptors for these in the kidney, and am therefore strongly connected to the theme Mitochondrial disorders as well. 

2. When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up? Can you tell us something about your childhood years. 
I have always been dipped into nature. My father grew tulips and I could spend hours wandering over the acres. It was a hobby of me to search and find wild duck nests in spring of which I took all eggs but one to eat them when young ducks were not in it. You can easily see this by see whether they sink in water or, when mother duck was on the nest, whether she defended her nest (then youngsters were in) of kept quiet and flew away when she noted she was seen. It was also fun to sit for hours at a nest of blackbirds with youngsters in it and see how the parents guarded the nest on distance when the other was searching food and changed their role when the other parent had delivered food. One step on the nest and the mouths opened. You can do it as well by tipping on the nest or by getting a shadow over them.
Besides this, I loved to see how equipment was put together by dismantling them. Putting it together again I usually left to my father, though he was not always happy with that. Also, my way of checking whether there was still electricity in the lamp fitting by standing on a chair on the table and connecting myself with the fitting through a pair of scissors was also not so much appreciated by my parent. I, however, was enlightened.
At the end of primary school, my parents told me they were advised to go to a boarding school, because they could not help me with school as they both have only done primary school (no money in a family of 11 persons each). Later, I heard that I was too difficult to handle (I still do not understand this part of my youth)

3. What was your previous academic training, where did you study and why did you choose that study/those studies? 
When my boarding school teacher asked me in my last year high school “what study will you do next year’ I did not had a clue. When I answered to his question on what my hobby was that I collected pictures of animals for a long time, it was directly clear to both of us: Biology. As I lived in Amsterdam, it started at the Free University in 1980. During the Bachelor period the novel direction of molecular Biology directly attracted me, so I chose to go for Medical Biology with speciality in molecular and cell biology. I wanted to discover how our body works. After a 7 years study (relatively fast at that time), I decided to go for a challenging PhD project with (now) Prof. Gerard Martens at the department of molecular animal physiology from 1987-1991 to generate transgenic Xenopus toads and to uncover how they adapt to the background colour by changing expression of the (mouthful word) proopiomelanocortin gene. A 60 hour/week PhD time, which was fun, but was not really successful. Successes only started with my postdoc period working on Aquaporin-2 water channels.

4. The RIMLS motto is ‘to understand molecular mechanisms of disease’. What does this mean for you?
First and for all: understanding the physiology (i.e. health) at integrative, cellular and molecular level. When a gene mutation underlies a disease, what is the function of the encoded protein, what cellular/integrative system is affected? When an acquired disease, discriminate the original problem from adaptations of cells and body? In studying (patho)physiology, only use physiologically-relevant models. Be led by what is known in the human situation.

5. Which international scientist inspires/inspired you the most? Please give a motivation why.
A few:
1)      Prof. Michael Caplan, Yale University: after rational checks, he goes for out of the box scientific challenges; stimulating and pleasant discussion partner; is highly respected as a scientist, because he shares and gives ideas/considers personal relationships more important than getting power out of status; humor
2)      Prof. Mark Knepper, NIH: best renal physiologist in the world; fully trustworthy; always a listening ear with unreserved advices
3)      Be Wieringa, RUMC: highly-inspiring and knowledgeable scientist pur sang
4)      Han Brunner, RUMC: strategic thinker with great vision
They share high intelligence.

6. Which research discovery that you have made has made you most proud?
A long time ago, my discovery that I identified the first mutations in the Aquaporin-2 gene being a cause for nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, a disorder in which humans void 15-20 liters a day. This was my first science paper. After a first discovery, however, I get used to the knowledge relatively fast and then I get hungry for more exciting novel findings. As such, I am now very excited about several investigations in my group: how do different identified genes make mice susceptible for lithium-induced NDI and CKD (Theun de Groot)?; is aerobic glycolysis explaining collecting duct remodelling in Li-induced NDI (Mohammad Alsady)?; can modulation of the succinate receptor be a treatment for chronic kidney disease (Claudia Carmone) and age-related macular degeneration (Elja Louer)?; will we succeed in making a first cell/animal model for pheochromocytoma’s (Marjolien van der Laak/Selma Waaijers? I cannot wait the see exciting faces at my desk and enjoy it with them.

7. Given unlimited finance what experiment would you perform?|
Although getting more insight in biological mechanisms is by itself a goal worthwhile enough for me to pursue, nowadays research has to have an economic value, such as identifying novel therapeutic targets for human diseases. It is nowadays becoming apparent, however, that many therapeutic suggestions from in vitro and animal studies do not turn out to work out in humans.  Whereas translation from animal models other than the human ‘model’ will certainly contribute to this, it is clear that when one compares the cellular expression and function of proteins in vitro with in vivo, the use physiologically irrelevant cell models and conditions is an important key to this problem. Besides using physiologically relevant cells and culture conditions, I think that items like growing cells on a semi-permeable membrane, flow and pulsating pressure as brought about by the heart are crucial for cell models to function as in vivo. With unlimited finance, I would collaborate with nano-experts to set up a system covering the above for renal proximal tubule cells and [blood vessel] endothelial cells on either side of the membrane, having pulsative flow of blood/pro-urine [with physiological levels of constituents] on either side of the membrane, and investigate the functioning of mitochondria and succinate receptor under physiological and pathophysiological conditions (increased angiotensin/aldosteron as in hypertension, cholesterol as cause of atherosclerosis, albuminuria as in focal segmental glomerular sclerosis [FSGS]. Following confirmation that it mimics in vivo, I would like to spread the info to other cells (e.g. cardiomyocytes) in collaboration with other groups.

8. What does your working area (desk, office) look like and what does it say about you (or your research)? 
The door is mostly open for questions. Following a convenient excuse of a hernia, we now have work discussions on my bureau table that is remotely-adaptable in height and which can be used as a bardesk (still wait for a group member bringing some beer to celebrate a great discovery at the desk; hope it will come soon). Surrounded by scientific posters of great discoveries in my research field and pictures of my wife Connie and children Patrick, Michael and Myrthe, my working desk is as clean as my mind. While working, more interesting papers and project descriptions will feed my hunger for knowledge, ordered on topic and sorted. When it nearly becomes too many and may lead to paralysis due to loss of overseeing it all, it is time to clean it up. I have two screens to work efficiently.

9. Nominate a colleague to be in the spotlight and what would you like to ask him or her? 
Bart Smeets: he is a talented youngster [compared to me] and I am curious what his answers are to the questions above.

10. What type of person are you, quick insights:
a) Mac or  PC:
b) Theater or Cinema:
c) Dine out or dine in: 
Dine in and out with friends
d) Ferrari or Fiat:
Toyota: reliable
e) Schopaholic or chocoholic:
f) Culture or Nature:

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