Ida Haisma is the director of the renowned Leiden Bio Science Park, an innovation hub housing 215 organizations. We ask Ida about our (un)sustainable healthcare system. Healthcare starts with health. What can be done to prevent illness? What innovations are there supporting a healthy lifestyle? And what is the role of the Leiden Bio Science Park in this?
Our healthcare system is strained. How does it affect your organization?
There’s a lot of news about waiting lists, a shortage of staff. I like to focus on the need for innovation. How to gain so-called ‘health years’, the years people live in good health. For this, we have to take a different perspective on health and care. We need to look at preventing disease. Traditionally, Leiden Bio Science Park has been known for its development of medicines. Now, there’s a large wave of innovation in medical food supplements. It's a good example of how care & prevention and cure & prevention can go hand-in-hand. Can we prevent people becoming obese, and thus preventing related diseases? This would ease the workload in healthcare. So, what can we do to prevent people becoming a patient? At the park, we also host a large group that works on stem cells, gene therapy. Taking out sick cells and replacing them with healthy cells. Really curing someone, instead of reducing symptoms.
What keep us from focussing on prevention more?
There’s nothing holding us back pers se. I think we should communicate more. Informing potential patients on how to prevent illness. That’s the most important thing. There are many disciplines at the Science Park that can play a part in this. The humanities are very important: psychology, sociology, communication. How can we reach those potential patients? How can we teach them to prevent illness? Of course, general practitioners and our healthcare system play a part, but usually you’re too late when people go see a doctor. We need to learn in school, or at daycare even, what you need to do stay fit. Instead of becoming ill and be cured, we must learn to be a healthy individual. Learn about food, exercise. It’s very important for parents to give a good example to their children too. We need to stress the positives to children: you’re stronger, you can run faster. Making it health something that’s fun and makes you feel good.
Instead of becoming sick and be cured, we must learn to be a healthy individual.
Ida Haisma, director of Leiden Bio Science Park
We need to work together on this transition. Is there enough cooperation in healthcare?
It’s difficult to answer this one from my position. If I look at the Leiden Bio Science Park, there’s more cooperation to innovate than before. We’re here to get all relevant parties to cooperate with each other. Speeding up those innovations. We work in a concept called Triple Helix: working together with public, private, and research organizations. Bringing parties together and find out who can bring this innovation forward. It can be informally, such as organizing a Life Sciences Cafe every month, sporting competitions. Or TechTalks where we share knowledge about a certain technology or about animal-free research. It can also be more formal. Can we find the funding to develop ideas further? Can we turn those ideas into medication or medical technologies that benefits patients? On average, an organization at the Leiden Bio Science Park works with 10 to 15 partners at the park. Can we expand this way of working across the country, across Europe, or even across the world? This is something I feel responsible for. How can others apply our learnings here in Leiden? For instance, our experience in attracting international talent.
When entering the park, you sense this is a very international environment. It’s a buzzing place.
That’s a lovely compliment. This is something we aspire to: to be a dynamic environment. Where there’s a lot of cooperation. Where different nationalities meet. Last week, we had a grand opening of a new multi-tenant building. Combining lab and office spaces, combining different startups and small businesses. This is a place where people meet and come up with new ideas. That’s the basis of innovation, for solutions that will help patients, or people, in the end.
Sustainability is a big topic in the healthcare transition. What role does it play at Leiden Science Bio Park?
We’re working on several aspects. Circularity, for instance. We just built a fully circular building that won an award. Something we’re very proud of. One of the university’s buildings was deconstructed and parts we reused, as well as other circular building materials. Next to that we help organizations receive grants for solar panels and green rooftops. Another aspect is biodiversity. We host our renowned national biodiversity museum, Naturalis. Wherever we can, we support other to create awareness and opportunities for sustainability.