Spotlight on Ellen Blaak PhD

Spotlight on Ellen Blaak PhD

Ellen Blaak PhD is Secretary of EASO and Professor in Physiology of fat metabolism, Department of Human Biology, NUTRIM

Please tell us a bit about yourself; where are you from, where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in the Western part of the Netherlands near Rotterdam, and in 1983 moved to Wageningen,  where I studied Human Nutrition. In 1989 I moved to to Maastricht in the Southern part of the Netherlands, where I have lived for over 25 years, with some short stays abroad. During my PhD research I lived near the border of Maastricht with nice views over the hills nearby.

Your global standing in obesity research is longstanding and you have over 200 peer reviewed publications. How long have you held your present academic affiliation? Can you tell us about your current research projects and interests?

I became a professor at the Department of Human Biology of Maastricht University in 2007. In addition to chairing the Department of Human Biology, I am involved in education and research. I lead a research group of around 15 people; our work is mainly focused on disturbances in energy and substrate metabolism in the etiology of obesity, insulin resistance and cardiometabolic complications as well as the impact of lifestyle intervention, mainly diet, in the prevention of these chronic metabolic diseases. We study both human physiology and the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms.  I am currently also project leader within the Top Institute Food and Nutrition, which is a public/private partnership of Dutch Academia and the (international) food industry, focused on pre-competitive nutrition research and is  involved in review committees and other work like the Nutrition Committee of the Dutch Health Council.

Are you involved in any EU consortium work? 

Yes, we are and have been involved in several European projects focused on dietary interventions and obesity, and a Joint Program Initiative on Biomarkers. In my Role as EASO Secretary I am member of the Scientific Advisory Board of several European projects.

You are Secretary of EASO and involved in the annual organisation of European Congresses on Obesity (ECOs), among other activities. Can you tell us a bit about that? 

I have a long history in the organization of European Conferences starting in 2007 in Budapest, chairing the ECO in 2009 in Amsterdam and being a member of the Scientific Committees during the years that followed. I enjoy this work this very much, connecting with a group of people from different European countries, working together, discussing interesting issues, and meeting in lovely European cities.  In addition to the hard work, certainly the social aspects are not forgotten, and in the evening hours we typically have a pleasant dinner together. In the end, it can be quite rewarding when our efforts yield, a substantial program.

How did your original interest in the field develop and how did you come to focus on these particular aspects of obesity research:disturbances in fatty acid metabolism in the etiology of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Impact of Lifestyle, diet, physical activity and pharmacological intervention in obesity? 

My interest in energy and substrate metabolism developed during my studies Human Nutrition in Wageningen at the time I did my period of practical work in Cambridge, UK. I participated in a study on ‘in vivo’ muscle metabolism in humans with obesity during prolonged fasting. During that time, I saw an advertisement for a PhD position in Maastricht on a topic covering precisely this focus. I applied, and acquired that position, so after this work I immediately moved to Maastricht.

Our readers would enjoy learning about your favourite activities, hobbies, and interests outside of your professional work:

In addition to working, I like to spend time with my family and friends, and try to be involved in sports activities at least twice a week (volleyball, fitness). Also, I like a lot of other things for which I have too little time like reading, traveling (not work-related) and taking lovely walks…..

Prof. Ellen Blaak is Professor of Physiology of fat metabolism at the Department of Human Biology since 2007. Her research focuses on the role of disturbances in fatty acid metabolism and interorgan cross-talk (gut-adipose tissue-muscle metabolism) in the aetiology of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus (>200 publ, H-index 43) as well as the impact of nutritional or lifestyle intervention to reverse these changes. She is member of the Nutrition committee of the Dutch Health Council and of several advisory board/grant evaluation committees. She is Secretary of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. She obtained funding from among others the Netherlands Organisation for  Scientific  research/Dutch  Diabetes  Research Foundation/EU  as  a  PI  for 20  research  projects and has supervised more than 19 PhD theses