Hans Tanke

‘The research output of Medical Delta is comparable with the work of leading institutes such as ETH in Zurich and Oxford University.’



Hans Tanke was awarded his PhD in Leiden in 1982 on the subject of cytochemical analysis methods for DNA and RNA. He was appointed professor of cellular biology in 1993 and has been head of the Molecular Cellular Biology Department at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) since 1997. Since 2013 he has also been working in the Faculty of Applied Sciences at TU Delft.


TU Delft: Bionanoscience
LUMC: Molecular Cell Biology Head of the department
Leiden University: NeCEN


Theme leader Molecular and Cellular Technologies

Small and splendid

Rotterdam, Delft and Leiden: concentration of knowledge

‘In Rotterdam, Delft and Leiden, in a very small geographical area, we have so many possibilities when it comes to research involving molecular and cellular therapies. There is so much knowledge con- centrated in this region. Several years ago, as part of the Health- TIES initiative, various different European medical centres were compared. The results can be summarised in a single sentence: although we may not rank highly individually, as a group we are among the best. What we within Medical Delta do is comparable with the work of leading institutes such as ETH in Zurich and Oxford University. Both consider us to be a fully-fledged partner. This gives me a real sense of optimism.’

‘Seeing’ things at molecular level

‘My own area of expertise is microscopy. Imaging covers the whole gamut from the very small- est, ‘seeing’ things at molecular level – here in the science faculty at Leiden, we have NeCEN, the Netherlands Centre for Electron Nanoscopy – to viewing the whole human body, in radiology. At Med- ical Delta, we limit our imaging to medical imaging.’

‘At NeCEN we have state-of-the- art electron microscopes that can make structures in hard materials visible that are no larger than one ångström! We cannot yet achieve that with biological materials, because of the method of preparation used, but very recently – as part of an excellent partnership between the Leiden research group and a group in Utrecht – we successfully imaged a cluster of immunoglobulin molecules on a membrane. Each molecule is around 8 nanometres (80 ångström) and you can actually see it with its little feet on the membrane binding the complement factor needed for the immune response!’

Pursuing research in a medically interesting direction

‘I am also a professor in the science faculty at Leiden. My job there is to work on behalf of the Board to make sure that if the science faculty develops a great microscopy technique the LUMC does not replicate it and vice-ver- sa. Somebody needs to keep an eye on these things because they are separate worlds. What I often see – and this should not be seen as criticism – is that someone in the science faculty has a great idea and it is developed there – just great! – and after four years a book is published... and then along comes a researcher (it always makes me laugh: I have been here 37 years and it still continues to happen!) who says: listen to this! We’ve come up with a great idea, can you think of a possible applica- tion? And I think: that’s brilliant! But why did you not come here three years earlier? Then we could have pursued the research in a good di- rection that is medically interesting. What I’m saying is it’s important for each to know what the other is doing. This is why Medical Delta matters so much.’

Medical Delta: closely working with SME’s

‘I would estimate that we have several hundred companies on our files. With all due respect to the big companies, they are not the ones we find most interesting. It is more interesting working with SMEs. Their attitude is different. They are more dynamic and decisive. Of course they may be lacking the expertise and financial resources to build expensive infrastructure.’

‘The bigger companies have all the equipment they need in- house but if you have set up a little company as an entrepreneur, you are unlikely to purchase a mass spectrometer costing one million. That is something we can offer. Here, we have the Advanced Microscopy Imaging facility with all the equipment you need and if somebody from the business park asks if we could possibly help them out, I will say: why not drop by, without immediately issuing them with an invoice. Another time they will help us instead. This flexibility works wonderfully.’