Dr. Hedwich Kuipers

Assistant Professor, University of Calgary 

Dr. Hedwich Kuipers, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary 

Dr. Kuipers received her MSc in Biopharmaceutical Sciences and her PhD in Immunology at Leiden University in the Netherlands. After this, she moved to Stanford University to pursue neuroimmunology research as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Lawrence Steinman. At Stanford, she then continued to study how the components between cells (the extracellular matrix) affects immune responses, in the lab of Dr. Paul Bollyky. In April 2018 she joined the Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary as an Assistant Professor of Neuroimmunology. Dr. Kuipers is also a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases  

Dr. Kuipers’ research centers on neuroinflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and tries to understand the interaction between immune cells entering the central nervous system (CNS) and the cells that reside there. Her main focus is on how astrocytes, one of the main non-nerve cell types in the CNS, regulate inflammatory responses. She has shown before that these cells can release factors that help immune cells infiltrate into CNS tissue. She currently investigates how astrocytes interact with these immune cells and affect their responses, using molecular and cell biology approaches, as well as models of MS. She is particularly interested in how extracellular matrix components play a role in the regulation of immune cell responses by astrocytes. With this research she hopes to determine what drives disease in MS and find ways to stop it. 

Learn more about Dr. Kuipers​​

How did you become interested in MS research? What inspires you to continue advancing research in this field?

Being trained in the scientific aspects of drug development, when the time came to pursue a PhD, I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to the type of research that not only discovers new aspects of biology, but also has the potential to improve the lives of people living with a disease. Fortunately, a project focused on the immune functions of cells of the brain and how they change in MS came on my path and I set off to get my PhD with this project. Since then, the complexity of neuroimmunology, combined with the urgent need to understand what drives MS, has kept me captivated and now continues to be the driving force behind my research group.

What do you enjoy most about doing research and what are some of the challenges you face?

There is nothing like the thrill of finding something out for the first time. The beauty of carefully designing experiments that give you a definite answer to very specific questions and then putting all those pieces of the puzzle together never ceases to inspire me. It is very satisfying when the picture first starts to become clear and you are able to fill in the rest and ultimately find a lead that could change the lives of people living with MS.

The biggest challenge of a career in research is the uncertainty of funding, which makes it hard for young talented people to choose that path, even though they could make a difference in the lives of so many people. Unfortunately, the importance of supporting research is valued differently by different administrations, which makes for this uncertainty. However, thanks to organizations like the MSSOC, we are still able to steadily continue research efforts in MS.

Describe the importance and level of collaboration in your research?

Collaboration is key in research. It no

t only gives access to expertise and technologies that you would otherwise not have, but also, and more importantly, it brings different minds together. Different ways of thinking about complex questions and how to solve them makes research better. I’m very fortunate to have joined a highly collaborative research community here at the University of Calgary, as well as still having close ties with the institutes where I have worked before, at Stanford University and the MS Center Amsterdam.

How important is the support from the MS Society in enabling you to conduct research?

It is safe to say that without the support from the MS Society, the state of MS research in Canada would not be at the high level it is. Their operating grants, as well as trainee fellowships, are what allows me to plan my research over multiple years. Without this certainty of funding, I would not be able to perform my experiments to the level that is needed to drive discovery.