During his doctoral research, physiologist Coen Ottenheijm faced the challenge of developing a device that could measure the force of contraction of a single muscle cell. After two years of ups and downs he succeeded in isolating a muscle cell from the biopsy of a patient, finding a way to make it contract and accurately measuring the resulting force. Ever since this eureka moment, he has been fascinated by how muscles work.
Muscles are composed of an ingenious mechanism that involves countless proteins. Congenital or acquired abnormalities in these proteins jam the mechanism, with life-threatening illnesses as a result. Coen Ottenheijm’s research examines what causes this to happen. His work focuses on the congenital neuromuscular disorder of nemaline myopathy and on an acquired disorder of the diaphragm (our main breathing muscle) in ICU patients.
Coen Ottenheijm believes it is of paramount importance to build a bridge between the preclinical research within his Department of Physiology and clinical research at Amsterdam’s university hospitals, VUmc and AMC. A few years ago he began building this bridge by launching a joint research programme that focused on muscle biopsies taken from hospital patients. It involves collaboration with the Physics Department at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with a view to developing innovative research techniques to determine the structure and function of sarcomeres, the smallest contractile units of muscle. The key element of this bridge will be to translate the findings obtained from biopsy research into clinical applications.
Coen Ottenheijm was appointed as a URC professor on 1 January 2016.