Professor Dr. Bert-Jan van den Born
is PI of WP3 –>
Bio Bert-Jan van den Born
Van den Born is an internist specialized in vascular medicine. He wants much more attention for the positive sides of research into ethnic differences in health: ‘Because if we know why there are differences, we can set up much better treatments’, says Van den Born.
Actually, it is not medicine, but evolutionary biology that forms the basis of Van den Born’s interest. ‘Health differences are sometimes determined by evolution, and are therefore genetically determined. This can be useful, but is sometimes no longer ‘necessary’. Think of genes that ensure that you absorb extra salt. That could have been an advantage when a population lived in very dry areas, but can lead to problems with high blood pressure in the present day,’ says Van den Born. He wants to use his chair to better understand why health problems differ among population groups.
In his own work at the AMC location, Van den Born also saw differences in syndromes in various ethnic groups. ‘For years I have noticed the ethnic differences in cardiovascular diseases. I obtained my PhD on research into severe hypertension (high blood pressure) in West Africans; this was much more common among this group than, for example, among Hindus. I want to know why.”
Van den Born is aware of the social impact of research into ethnic differences. The results of this type of research are often hijacked into negative or judgmental discussions. He therefore wants to place a much greater emphasis on the positive side. He has been doing this for many years as a trainer of young doctors, by providing specific education about diversity and health differences. “But in politics and the public debate, we’ve just been ‘not’ talking about it for a while. Apparently it’s easier not to burn yourself on this topic. While knowledge about diversity in medicine helps with better treatment, prevention and early detection. We have a duty to look at why health differences exist.”
Van den Born is involved in the large-scale Helius study, in which the health differences among nearly 25,000 Amsterdammers of various origins have been studied for years.