Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Annemieke ter Telgte

Date of news: 6 September 2019

Annemieke ter TelgteWhat's your name, nationality,  current function, and department?

Annemieke ter Telgte, Dutch, PhD candidate at the Neurology department of Radboudumc and Donders Center for Medical Neuroscience.

t is the topic of your PhD project?

I perform an MRI study to investigate changes in the brain that result from pathological alterations to the smaller blood vessels in the brain, a condition that is called cerebral small vessel disease. Small vessel disease is an important risk factor for dementia, but unfortunately we still know little about it. With age, the smaller blood vessels in the brain undergo changes which lead to damage in the brain. With the current MRI scans we cannot visualize these smaller blood vessels, but we can investigate the damage that results from small vessel pathology. I wanted to investigate whether cerebral small vessel disease also leads to small brain infarcts, i.e., sudden deprivations of blood in certain brain regions. These small brain infarcts can be seen on MRI in the acute phase, up to approximately 14 days after onset. Therefore, to investigate how often these small brain infarcts occur and to study their effects on other brain structures and function, we collected monthly MRI scans over a period of 10 months in about 50 participants.

What does your work look like in practice?

In the first two years I set up the study and together with my colleague Kim Wiegertjes collected all the monthly MRI scans (almost 500!), which was tough from time to time and involved a lot of administrative work. Once we had collected all the scans, we examined the scans for small acute infarcts and other markers of small vessel disease, such as microbleeds and white matter changes. After that I could finally start to analyze the data and answer my research questions. Meanwhile I noticed that after having looked at the MRI scans for such a long time, I wanted to zoom in on these small infarcts and learn more about them from a microscopic perspective. Therefore, I went to Boston to perform a histopathology study last year. Now, I am finishing up my PhD and write most of the time.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was very young I really wanted to do something with animals, like becoming a horsewoman or training dolphins. A little bit later I realized that having a lot of free time must also be great, so I was thinking of jobs that in my eyes did not require much time. I never pictured myself going to university and study for so long, but I am happy I did.

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?

I studied Psychology at Utrecht University. In Utrecht you have to choose a direction within the field of psychology already after your first year. I really wanted to understand the brain better, so I decided to follow the cognitive research track. After my bachelor, I did the master Neuroscience & Cognition, also in Utrecht. During my master I realized that I wanted to study the diseased brain, and I was especially interested in neurological diseases and imaging. As a second master internship I went to Munich to the Institute for Stroke and Dementia Research. Through others I came in touch with my current supervisor Frank-Erik de Leeuw.

Who are you working with and what do these collaborations look like?

My PhD is characterized by a lot of team work. Most important are Frank-Erik de Leeuw (my promotor and daily supervisor), Kim Wiegertjes, Marco Duering, and Anil Tuladhar. We work closely together and meet up frequently. However, throughout the years and at different stages of my research I have worked with many other people, which I greatly enjoyed, and this research project would not have been possible without them.

What does the Donders Institute mean to you?

When I think of the Donders Institute I think of a center where excellent research takes places. I think the Donders Institute is one of the best centers in the Netherlands in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Furthermore, I see the Donders Institute as a very modern and innovative organization.

What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?

I think it is important to find the right balance between having a focus and a plan at the start of your PhD and staying open for new input and new collaborations that might come up. It is of course hard to plan a 4-year project ahead, but without focus you might feel like you’re “swimming around”. At the beginning of my project I never could have thought that I would go to Boston, but at some moment it just fitted perfectly with my research. I really encourage everyone to go abroad! Try to build a team of experts around you with whom you enjoy working, and find out what your talents are. And finally a PhD is all about learning, so take the opportunity to practice those things you want to learn or you might find scary, for instance presenting at conferences.

What are you looking forward to in life?

I am currently finishing up my PhD. Although it’s sad that it is coming to an end already, I am also looking forward to the new things that will come and starting a new adventure.

Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?

At the end of this year’s graduate school day Harold Bekkering introduced the idea on the Donders Living lab. I felt really excited about the idea I am curious how it will develop!