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Blog Post - Assay Development
Picture of Remco Arts
Remco Arts
Scientist at Pivot Park Screening Centre. Oss, the Netherlands.

How the pandemic brought me back to scientific research

A year ago, on March 16th 2020, tight restrictions were enforced to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus, in the Netherlands. Many people saw their daily lives change drastically. My life was no exception to this.

Time to reflect
My commute was reduced from 50 km to one staircase. Instead of the daily buzz and dynamics of the office, my days were now spent in the attic, with virtual colleagues for companionship. Time spent in the car was replaced by time spent walking outside. These walks offered a good moment for reflection, to consider what was happening in the world and to reflect on my own role and contribution. Was I doing enough to help fight against the pandemic, to help society return to the old normal? Of course, I followed government directives, kept my distance and received few guests. Yet I felt that given my background in Biomedical Engineering, particularly Chemical Biology, my contribution against the pandemic could be larger, more direct. I felt passive. This rekindled an old sentiment; a desire to spend my working life making a direct contribution to a healthier society by doing scientific research.

Opportunities at Pivot Park Screening Centre
After my PhD studies at the Eindhoven University of Technology, I had spent three years working for companies in the life sciences and medical devices industry. Although I believe the companies I worked at make a genuinely positive contribution to the healthcare system, my own role ultimately felt too far removed from the R&D divisions to have the impact I wanted. Almost enviously, I witnessed my former PhD colleagues attain increasingly interesting roles in pharmaceutical companies, reaching positions where they could positively influence drug discovery and development. After three years, would it be too late for me to return to that trajectory? Could I still go back to the lab? Then, suddenly, an opportunity presented itself. A position in the Assay Development team at Pivot Park Screening Centre (PPSC) would become available. I knew the job was a perfect fit as soon as I heard about it. This was my chance to get back into scientific research, back to making a direct contribution. During my PhD years, I had built experience in assay development. The PPSC would be the perfect opportunity to use this assay development experience for a good cause, to help identify potential new pharmaceuticals. Given the central involvement of the PPSC in the European Lead Factory, as well as their involvement in other drug discovery initiatives, I had a hard time thinking of any other environment where my assay development experience could be put to better service.

Back in the lab
Fortunately, my application was accepted by PPSC and on March 1, I started in the Assay Development group. Naturally, I had wondered whether three years away from scientific research had made my mind go rusty. However, from the very first meeting onward, I noticed that the scientific foundations laid in Eindhoven were still strong enough to build on. More importantly, I realized in that first meeting that I had come home, that the types of discussions in the meeting were precisely the type of discussions that I enjoy. After a few weeks of intense reading and meetings, an increasingly large part of my working day is now spent back in the lab. While the return to scientific discussions felt like coming home, starting in a new lab always gives the feeling of moving to a new house. The hum of the centrifuge, the smell of cleaning ethanol and the gentle clicking of pipettes were still familiar, yet I still had to redevelop my everyday routines. I was lucky to have very helpful colleagues, who supported me through a range of start-up questions. Some of these questions were trivial – where are the pipette tips? – while some required more lengthy support, such as supervising me when starting up my first cell culture in several years. I would like to thank my colleagues for their support in this.  They have enabled me to find the ground beneath my feet in the lab again.

For me, like for many others, it has been a year of reflection, in which I saw more clearly than ever before how I wanted to spend my working life. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to spend my working life at PPSC, aiding in the effort to find new solutions for the most pressing healthcare challenges. I hope to make the most of it.