Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Mark van Loenen

Date of news: 3 September 2021

pic_sepWhat's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Mark van Loenen and I am from The Netherlands. Since January 1st of 2021 I started as a PhD student at the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience (DCCN) as a member of the Food & Cognition group. However, I am also part of the Donders Centre for Cognition (DCC) as my PhD will primarily focus on brain-cognition measures.

What is the topic of your PhD project and how does your work look like in practice?
My PhD is centered around cognitive ageing, the age-related progressive decline of different cognitive domains which generally occurs in the elderly population. Population ageing brings forth significant challenges to our society and with this increasing age, the prevalence of age-related cognitive impairment increases likewise. I am greatly interested in the brain mechanisms at play underlying cognitive decline. Additionally, I have a profound interest in neuroimaging and by using these techniques I aim to gain a greater understanding of which mechanisms undermine our cognitive ability as we grow older. For my PhD, we will conduct a randomized controlled trial with a multidomain lifestyle intervention, aimed at improving the modifiable lifestyle risk factors that play a role in progressive cognitive impairment (such as hypertension, low physical activity, unhealthy diet).

Currently, we are still in the planning phase of our randomized controlled trial. Therefore, we are mainly working on the ethical approval of our study and the content of the lifestyle intervention. We hope to be able to recruit, include and start the intervention within the coming months. Exciting stuff on the horizon!

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
During my masters I was greatly interested in brain research as I was fascinated by its functions, structures and unbelievable complexity. During my first internship, I did brain research in a mouse model and there I found out I would much rather work with human patients/participants. Through connections with the professor from my first internship, I managed to get an internship position within the Department of Neurology of the Radboudumc, where I assisted in a longitudinal study on cerebral small vessel disease with a strong and broad neuroimaging approach. During this internship I worked on specific brain lesions (lacunes; small cavities within the brain) and wrote my thesis on small subcortical infarcts within this cerebral small vessel disease patient subgroup. I enjoyed my time and work so much, that for the first time I knew I wanted to develop my expertise within the field of clinical/applied neuroscience.
Therefore, I aimed to find a PhD that fit my interests and would be a challenging opportunity and I think being able to design, perform and eventually analyze a randomized controlled intervention is a great incentive to do so!

What did you want to be when you were younger?
I used to tell my parents I wanted to work with animals (I don’t think I meant working with animal models way back then!), but never really made anything of it. My perception of my own career has shaped itself during the last 5 years I would say, as I’ve changed a lot.

What does your perfect weekend look like?
I love food and cooking. I get great pleasure from preparing meals, especially from quite comprehensive recipes. My perfect weekend would look like: taking a day to cook a great curry (without having to do the dishes; otherwise it wouldn’t be perfect!), going out for dinner with a nice cold beer, and taking a day to relax or doing a relaxed activity like visiting a zoo.

What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?
Don’t underestimate the amount of influence you can have over ‘luck’ in your life. Everyone will encounter opportunities, whether it is finding career prospects or finding someone you can truly connect with. I believe that being able to identify, acknowledge and act on these opportunities is a crucial element which sets you apart from other people who are in the same boat as you.

What are you looking forward to in life?
… Joking of course. I hope my PhD is only a first step in my professional development, as I would like to delve myself deeper into clinical and applied neuroscience.
As for something unrelated to work: I love cars and greatly enjoy driving. I am very much looking forward to making holiday road trips (to Italy, and Scandinavia to start off with) with my wife!