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Human Health and Life Sciences

How do we stay as healthy and vital as possible? In this profile theme, academics and students at VU Amsterdam conduct research on how we can achieve this—taking into account individual differences and personal situations while also enabling everyone to take charge of their own health and illness.

People who are sick want to recover as soon as possible. People who are chronically ill want to cope and live as well as possible with their disease, disorder or impairment. But ideally, we all want to be and stay healthy. Under the motto ‘prevention is better’, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is committed to achieving this to the greatest extent possible. With education, research and together with partners.

Healthy living is not always easy. We sit for long periods and do very little exercise and sport. We experience stress more often and at a younger age, whether during our education or while working. We make unhealthy food choices, tempted by the wide range of products available in supermarkets. And drinking, smoking, doing drugs or taking pills has become a regular habit for an increasing number of people in our society.

At the same time, we are living longer and putting more strain on our planet. A growing number of people at an increasingly younger age are unable to actively participate in society due to various impairments or illnesses. Our demand for healthcare is increasing, while healthcare funding and the availability of staff are already major constraints. All of this affects the labour market, the economy and society as a whole.

With the steady increase in population, how can we distribute the limited healthcare resources as sustainably and equitably as possible? How can we support people in living healthy lives and help them optimise their own health and well-being? How can we make diagnoses as timely and accurate as possible so people can get better faster? How can we reduce health disparities between social groups? How can we strengthen self-reliance and help people take charge of their own health and (chronic) illness? And how can we ensure that healthcare is future-proof, accessible and of high quality? All of these questions are central to education and research in the profile theme Human Health and Life Sciences at VU Amsterdam.

Staying healthy

We want to help prevent people from developing health problems, and to stimulate them to actively participate in society for as long as possible. Our approach focuses on people's personal situation and living environment. For instance, we look at their life at home, at school, at work, their physical living environment and their social network.

Using this approach, we investigate the effects of sugar in soft drinks on body weight and the impact of the packaging or location of purchase on the consumption behaviour of parents and schoolchildren. By conducting research on performance pressure, screen use and sleep patterns, we analyse how we can improve teenagers' mental well-being. And we make sure that people realise early on how they can lower their biological age with the right diet, exercise and lifestyle.

Early interventions

We want to detect pre-existing conditions early on and make the course of the illness run as favourably as possible. Thanks to cohort studies among many different groups in our society, we gain scientific insights into the health disparities between women, men and people from different cultural or social backgrounds. And based on intervention studies, we know more about which treatments do and do not work for people with, for instance, obesity, cancer, heart or muscle disease, addiction, and mental or neurological disorders. This means that we can better monitor someone with an increased risk or genetic predisposition for a particular disease or disorder, detect health problems early, and offer a more personalised treatment.

Taking charge of illness

We also help people to take charge of their own illness and health, and to improve their quality of life when their illness or disease turns out to be long-term or chronic. Thanks to the aforementioned cohort and intervention studies, we know how people can learn to cope better with diseases such as Alzheimer's, MS or autism. With augmented reality, we help people with Parkinson's disease reduce the feeling of their feet being 'stuck'. And we make more fragile elderly people aware of the importance of sufficient exercise and nutritious eating, so they are able to avoid losing their independence due to reduced muscle strength and able to better prevent a fall, for example.

Amsterdam Metropolitan Area at the leading edge

On the VU Amsterdam campus, we use state-of-the-art facilities and technologies. For example, we can detect Alzheimer's disease early, reduce the risk of blindness for people with eye disease, diagnose oesophageal cancer accurately and more affordably, treat asthma more effectively and provide razor-sharp images of neurological abnormalities. With the proximity of the two university medical centres of Amsterdam UMC, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the Academic Center for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA), the University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, several great start-ups and the powerful clustering of STEM and medical-science research, we in Amsterdam are in a leading position in movement, health and life sciences.

People and their living environment

Those who are in a household that is dealing with unemployment, debt, lack of education and housing problems are less likely to actively engage in a healthy lifestyle. In this profile theme, we regularly work with citizens and civic partners, such as the municipality, debt restructurers and education coaches. We also explore ways in which we can design neighbourhoods in Amsterdam so that people exercise more. This could include car-free streets, safe playgrounds, healthy schools and canteens, and accessible roads for the elderly and people with disabilities. We share the knowledge we gain in Amsterdam with policymakers in government, knowledge institutes, civic partners and innovative companies. And this knowledge is then used regionally, nationally and even worldwide. This is how we work together every day towards a vibrant future for everyone.

Why doctors should also be concerned about climate change

Why doctors should also be concerned about climate change

Medical students Sarah, Philip and Gabrielle aim to contribute to a better world by advocating for planetary health in their curriculum. They tell us how and why in their podcast.

Listen to the podcast
Team CO₂-assistant

Human Health & Life Sciences within VU Amsterdam

Contribution to SDGs

We contribute with this profile theme to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): zero hunger (SDG 2), good health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), reduced inequalities (SDG 10) and responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).

Education: Human Health and Life Sciences

  • Bachelor's programmes

    Bachelor Bewegingswetenschappen (in Dutch)

    How can someone with a spinal cord injury ride a bike again? What happens in the brain when we walk or stumble? How can we monitor the physical and mental strain experienced by athletes to prevent overtraining? With this bachelor's programme, students learn about movement and how to optimise movement in sport and healthcare.

    Bachelor Biologie (in Dutch)

    How can we prevent bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics? How can we explain unusual animal behaviour? During this programme, students learn about life, biodiversity, ecology, sustainable habitats, health, evolution and molecular biology.

    Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences

    How does our body convert food into energy? What happens in the immune system when we are ill? How can we research new treatment methods for a disease like cancer? In this programme, students study in-depth the processes that take place in the human body.

    Bachelor Farmaceutische wetenschappen (in Dutch)

    How can drugs influence disease processes? What exactly does a disease cause to go wrong in a cell? How do we test the effectiveness, breakdown and side effects of drugs? With this programme, students learn how to develop medicines from a molecular and chemical perspective.

    Bachelor Gezondheid en leven (in Dutch)

    How can we reduce environmental pollution from the excessive use of medicines? How does the consumption of alcohol by a pregnant woman affect the development of her unborn child? In this bachelor’s programme, students study various aspects of life, health and disease, as well as examine the sustainability of our healthcare system.

    Bachelor Gezondheidswetenschappen (in Dutch)

    Should we make the HPV vaccination mandatory? How can we tackle obesity? In 20 years, will there still be large hospitals as we know them today? In this programme, students address current issues in healthcare and work on sustainable solutions from different perspectives.

    Bachelor Medische natuurwetenschappen (in Dutch)

    How do we get more information about Alzheimer's from an MRI scan? How can we fight cancer in a more targeted way? How does DNA replication work? During this programme, students bridge the gap between fundamental research and clinical practice.

    Bachelor of Psychology

    Why do people lash out at relief workers during emergencies? How can you help someone who no longer feels life is worth living? Do genes play a role in ADHD? In this programme, students study how people differ in thinking, behaviour and health and how we can influence this.

    Bachelor Scheikunde (in Dutch)
    How do we make new molecules for new medicines? How do we detect drugs in blood or wastewater? During this joint VU Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam programme, students study various aspects of chemistry to improve processes, products and materials, as well as design new ones.

  • Minor programmes

    Minor Biomedische beeldvorming (in Dutch)

    During this minor, students learn about the physical and chemical principles of imaging, such as microscopy, spectroscopy, X-ray, ultrasound, PET, MRI and CT. They will also engage in image processing and image analysis to extract the desired information from the captured images. 

    Minor in Cancer-Immune Diseases-Personalized Therapies

    This minor covers various immune-related processes that play a crucial role in almost every disease. It is often the balance within the immune system that determines the outcome of a disease, ranging from tissue destruction or the development of cancer to a complete cure.

    Minor Communicatie over gezondheid (in Dutch)

    How can we use social media and marketing techniques to change the habits and preferences of individuals? What are the legal frameworks for communication between healthcare providers and patients? In this minor, students will work on communication within the medical sector.

    Minor in Five Big Issues in Health

    How can we address societal problems such as drug abuse, occupational stress, unhealthy food choices or physical inactivity? What are the consequences of these issues for our health and for society? Students explore the answers in this minor.

    Minor in Global Health

    What are the effects of climate change, migration and rising healthcare costs on our health and the healthcare industry? During this minor, students work with local and international stakeholders on complex health issues.

  • Master's programmes

    Master of Biomedical Technology and Physics

    How do we translate fundamental research into innovative biomedical engineering solutions? During this master's programme, students delve into medical physics, biophysics and clinical technology and work on solutions for our healthcare system.

    Master Geneeskunde (in Dutch)

    Who is the person behind the patient? How can a doctor keep up with the latest developments? The master’s programme in Geneeskunde provides basic training for doctors (basisarts). Students put the knowledge gained during their bachelor's programme into practice through internships at hospitals and other healthcare institutions, and delve into complex healthcare issues.

    Master of Genes in Behaviour and Health

    How do genes affect our behaviour, well-being and health? During this master's programme, students investigate the extent to which differences between people can be attributed to and explained by our DNA, as well as study the influence of environmental factors.

    Master of Health Sciences

    How can we control the spread of infectious diseases? How can we eat healthy and also sustainably? What is causing the rise in healthcare costs? During the master’s programme in Health Sciences, students contribute to the development and implementation of interventions that solve health issues.

    Master of Human Movement Sciences

    How can we help older people become more mobile and independent? How can athletes get peak performance out of their muscles? What are the secrets of the human musculoskeletal system? This master's programme teaches students about sport, ageing and vitality, rehabilitation and musculoskeletal disorders, and tissue function and repair.

    Master of Neurosciences

    How does our brain work and how can certain dysfunctions lead to brain disorders? During the master's programme in Neurosciences, students learn about the brain and can better understand and combat diseases such as Alzheimer's, ALS and Parkinson's.

  • Extracurricular activities

    In the Dream Teams, bachelor’s and master’s students from a variety of programmes work together for one academic year on an assignment related to the profile theme Human Health and Life Sciences.

    VU ProFit Dream Team

    Not everyone leads an equally healthy life. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people's lifestyles to deteriorate. The VU ProFit Dream Team is developing a new approach to improve the lifestyles of employees and students at VU Amsterdam. The team uses innovative measurements and methods in nutrition, exercise, psychosocial factors (such as stress and motivation) and/or sleep. The information collected is used to provide personalised recommendations. The team also carries out measurements in the labs of the departments of Human Movement Sciences, Health Sciences and Psychology to test the effects of the new approach. The measurements are used to monitor and quantify lifestyle improvements.

    In this team, students develop academically, personally and socially. This contributes to A Broader Mind. After the academic year ends, a new team of students will continue with the project.

    PULSE Racing Dream Team

    The PULSE Racing Dream Team aims to improve the mobility and vitality of athletes with a spinal cord injury using Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES). With FES, the muscles contract as pulses are sent through the skin to the nerves. This enables athletes with a spinal cord injury to cycle again. PULSE Racing participates in national and international competitions and has even won gold at the Cybathlon, a competition in which talented para-athletes compete for the gold medal using advanced robotics. This Dream Team brings together sport, rehabilitation and technology and is trying to raise awareness of  FES in order to give even more athletes a chance to experience its capabilities and benefits.

    In this team, students develop academically, personally and socially. This contributes to A Broader Mind. After the academic year ends, a new team of students will continue with the project.

Research: Human Health and Life Sciences

  • Focus on prevention

    Our research primarily focuses on prevention. How can people stay healthy and vital? How can we detect diseases early and provide better and more targeted treatments? How can we promote self-reliance in people with a disease, disorder or disability? How can we enable them to take charge of their own health and well-being? And how can companies, governments and civil society organisations contribute to a healthy and sustainable way of life?

    We do a lot of research on broad-ranging societal health issues in the areas of cancer, metabolic syndrome (obesity and type 2 diabetes), neurodegeneration (Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, MS, ALS), mental disorders (such as depression and autism), immunology and infectious diseases, cardiovascular risk, gastrointestinal disorders, sarcopenia, pain and malnutrition.

  • Related faculties

  • Related research institutes

    Amsterdam Institute of Molecular and Life Sciences (AIMMS)

    How do microplastics get into our blood and are they harmful? How do chemicals in cleaning products affect our hormone balance? How can we develop a new generation of sustainable antibiotics? What role do proteins play in Alzheimer's disease? The AIMMS research institute makes and detects molecules and studies their impact in the context of biotechnology, medicine and the environment. The institute works to achieve breakthroughs in molecular, pharmaceutical and life sciences in order to develop innovations that improve human health and enhance sustainability.

    Amsterdam Movement Sciences

    How can we train elderly people to better maintain their balance while walking? Why does the performance of top athletes sometimes exceed expectations and then sharply decline again? How can we help people with Parkinson's disease reduce the feeling that their feet are 'stuck' to the ground? Amsterdam Movement Sciences conducts research into human movement, physical fitness and how physical and mental fitness are related. The aim is to promote human well-being and social participation in groups ranging from athletes, students and workers to the elderly and people with Alzheimer's disease, a muscle disease, obesity or a disability.

    Amsterdam Neuroscience

    Is a good memory influenced by our genes? How can we detect Alzheimer's disease at an early stage? How does drinking a cup of coffee affect our brains? Amsterdam Neuroscience aims to increase our understanding of healthy and diseased brains and the nervous system, through integrated fundamental, translational and clinical research. Clinicians and academics from VU Amsterdam, Amsterdam UMC and the University of Amsterdam collaborate on translational research programmes, focusing on specific disease mechanisms in the brain and nervous system, as well as on technological innovation and fundamental research.

    Amsterdam Public Health

    How can we encourage and support people when it comes to staying healthy? How can we keep healthcare sustainable and accessible? How can we better reach and support young people with mental health problems? How can we better customise healthcare to account for cultural, ethnic, socioeconomic, psychological, metabolic, genetic and individual differences? Amsterdam Public Health conducts research that contributes to keeping individuals and diverse population groups healthy throughout their lives. Researchers at VU Amsterdam, Amsterdam UMC and the University of Amsterdam work intensively with healthcare professionals, civil society organisations, academics and policymakers. The knowledge generated in the Amsterdam region is shared with and applied at private and public organisations around the world.

    LaserLab Amsterdam

    How can we recognise damaged cells at an early stage? How can we capture high-resolution images of lung diseases? How can we better predict which drugs will work? How can we provide more targeted treatments? LaserLab Amsterdam does pioneering research in key areas: physics of light, physics of energy, biophotonics and microscopy, analytical chemistry and spectroscopy, molecular biophysics, and lighttissue interactions. LaserLab Amsterdam is a collaboration between VU Amsterdam, the Amsterdam UMC and the University of Amsterdam. Academics and doctors at LaserLab use highly sophisticated medical imaging techniques in their research.