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Maria Yazdanbakhsh: Advancing Global Health through International Collaboration 

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April 28, 2024

In this first interview as part of a series by LUMC Global, Maria Yazdanbakhsh shares her story and her view on internationalization in research. 

Maria Yazdanbakhsh is a Professor of Immunology in Parasitic Infections, Head of the Parasitic Department at LUMC, and one of the faces behind LUMC Global. She started her research career studying locusts at the British Library during her summer break in her senior year. She has been fascinated by science ever since.  
After studying at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, she has enjoyed a highly successful career conducting research in both the ‘global north’ and the ‘global south’. Through her research, she proved that what we know about the immune system is incomplete. She therefore strives for more knowledge to find more solutions. Not only to problems in the global south, but also for problems in the global north by breaking out of the tunnel vision of working in Europe only. Drawing on views and knowledge from all sides or corners and making friendships through collaboration is what drives her: “If you want to study parasites and the interaction with their hosts, human hosts, then you have to go to areas where they are prevalent and those are in low middle income countries. So, therefore you know you need to have a very international outlook on research, on people and on education.”

Successful student exchange
In an ever-changing world, she is happy to work for an institute such as LUMC which keeps paying attention to internationalization with countless successful student exchange programs and research collaborations in countries such as Indonesia, Cuba, and Tanzania as a result. She expects her students who go abroad to be culturally sensitive, respectful, and genuinely interested. By having good discussions with students before they leave, it is her hope to raise awareness of the importance that this holds, since according to her, having the correct attitude is key in reaching equal partnerships. She states: “In terms of research, we work together with collaborators also in Indonesia, in Tanzania, in many parts of the world and, you know, we published in top papers together because we make discoveries that we otherwise would not have made if we had just studied things here.”  

Enabling these collaborations is one of the main goals of LUMC Global. Inspired by TU Delft Global, Maria was this platform’s main architect and now is the driving force behind LUMC’s internationalization program, working closely together with the LUMC Global Lead, Suze Kruisheer. The role this platform fulfills in connecting students, researchers, and medical professionals within LUMC to institutions abroad is crucial in fostering relations with international collaborators: “Having LUMC Global means that you know that the people who work there are making connections with everybody at LUMC. It is essential to have and continue cherishing LUMC Global.”  

Guiding next generations
As one of the front runners in the field of biomedical sciences with an inspiring career, Maria has been awarded with several highly distinguished prizes, amongst other the Spinoza Prize in 2021 for her work on the interaction between the immune system and parasites in countries in the global south. In addition, she is trying to guide the next generation of students by organizing an international half minor in Indonesia. Creating an international environment such as the one she experienced in London clearly demonstrates how her efforts in stimulating internationalization contribute to the ever-evolving landscape of global health.  

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