Hello Dr. Visscher, first of all, thank you for accepting my request for an interview. Can you please tell us about yourself?
My name is Dafydd Owen Visscher, I was born in the Netherlands. After finishing high school, I decided I wanted to study abroad so I moved to Australia and enrolled in the Biomedical Science program at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Brisbane. During my studies there, I developed a particular interest in human anatomy and physiology, and decided I wanted to become a doctor. When I finished both my bachelor of Science and an additional honors year at UQ, I moved back to the Netherlands and got accepted into the 4-yearmedical school program at Utrecht University.
Whilst studying medicine my interest in plastic and reconstructive surgery started to grow. I did additional clerkships in this particular field, and decided to do my research at the department of plastic, reconstructive and hand surgery at the Amsterdam University Medical Center, location VUmc in Amsterdam. From here I enrolled directly into a PhD program that focused on tissue engineering and 3D (bio)printing of cartilage for facial reconstruction in burn patients. Whilst doing my PhD I worked at the department of Surgery and later Plastic Surgery to gain experience in the clinic. Recently, I got accepted into the resident program for Plastic, Reconstructive, and Hand Surgery, and I’m currently a plastic surgeon in training.
What is your PhD study based on, briefly? And how do you feel about your study in future? Do you think it’ll be a mainstream therapy in future?
In short, I looked at tissue engineering of cartilage for the application of craniofacial surgery such as in burn patients. In the lab, I cultured cartilage cells and made a hydrogel to grow them in. I studied the quality of this cartilage and also the feasibility of printing cartilage cells, and developed a shell to grow these cells in the shape of an ear. In the future, I hope we can engineer new pieces of cartilage for use in the clinic. We want to use these cartilage pieces in surgery for the reconstruction of damaged ears or noses. I think direct 3D (bio)printing of cartilage will not become a mainstream therapy for a long time, if at all. However, I do hope we can develop small pieces of good quality cartilage to use for surgery.
Are there any specific reasons for you to get into your field? You studied in medical school; and what happened so you decided to do a PhD, specifically about tissue engineering?
With my interest in both Medicine and Biomedical Science, I found a field that covers both, namely tissue engineering. I had wet lab experience such as cell culture; and applying this knowledge and these skill in medicine proved valuable in the field of tissue engineering. Because my medical degree also covered the scientific part of medicine, I decided to do a PhD in the field that was known to me and that had my interest. Doing a PhD was a great opportunity to focus on the development of cartilage for reconstructive surgery.
I’m sure there must be some points in your timeline that you see as a “critical turning-of-events”. Can we say meeting with Dr Atala and being a part of Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) had an affect like that? How did that experience affect your studies?
This is a great question and I think everyone has critical points in their lives when they made a wrong/right decision. I think every decision I made during my life had consequences and that is also what pointed my life into this direction. For example, doing biomedical science before my medical degree (which is not usual in the Netherlands) made me develop a great interest in lab work and science in general. I think it is because of this reason I also chose to do a PhD, which not many people with a medical background do in the Netherlands. Because I was free to make choices during my PhD, I ended up at WFIRM. I followed their work for quite a while, and it was a great opportunity for me to broaden my horizons (yet again). I think for everyone, going out of your comfort zone by doing something new adds great new experiences to your life.
We are scientists mostly working on the lab-bench side of the field. As a medical doctor yourself, I’m guessing we (the lab-based scientists and you) have slightly different visions on the reg. med. and tissue engineering studies, how does it feel like to do such important studies while you have a direct access to the patient-side of the story?
I think being a doctor and scientist is a great combination, because you also know the application of your work. Before I entered the clinic, I had but the slightest idea of the applications of my benchwork in the clinic. Now, with patient experience and knowledge of the hospital environment, I know better what is feasible and what is not. I recommend every researcher in the field of medicine to also collaborate with a medical doctor for the application, because eventually they are the ones that will apply your invention in the clinic.
Dr. Visscher shares some of his work on his twitter account
Lastly, do you want to give some advice to the younger generations who want to study in your field in future? Even a book advice would be really appreciated, I think.
I think the best advice to give is: do what you like. Studying in the field of biomedical science and medicine is in my opinion, fascinating. I do what I like which motivates me to continue. Also, don’t give up. A PhD is hard work with a lot of downs! (more downs than ups). So, if you feel like you’re down, talk to someone about it and don’t let it demotivate you. Think about why you chose this subject/study and make sure you continue to do what you like. If you’re interested in the field of tissue engineering, I recommend to start with the basics. Read articles on tissue engineering in general (such as reviews) to know what the subject is about. Then try to find out where your interests lie. From here focus more on a specific field in tissue engineering, such as in my case, cartilage tissue engineering.
Thank you so much for your time and interest! Good luck in your studies!