Early Career Researcher Spotlight – Laura Kuijper

In this edition of the Early Career Researcher Spotlight we talk to Ms. Laura Kuijper.

Laura Kuijper is a research psychologist at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC). Since graduating cum laude from her Cognitive Neuroscience masters program at Leiden University in 2021, she works at the Huntington’s Disease Research Team on multiple studies related to HD, including IDEA-FAST, Enroll-HD, and local researcher-initiated studies.

She has broad interests ranging from HD to the application of Open Science in the academic-medical context, to coding and statistics in R.

What is your major focus as a researcher, and why were you drawn to this path?

My major focus is Huntington’s Disease, and more specifically the psychological/cognitive aspects of the disease. I was drawn to it during my master’s studies (a master of Cognitive Neuroscience/Neuropsychology), as there was little mention of it during my classes despite the enormous impact it has on patients and their support system. It is such a heterogenous disease, with so little still known about it. I’m very glad to have gotten an opportunity to work in the Huntington’s Disease Research Team at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) to learn more about this disease and hopefully contribute to some solutions. Currently, I work as a research psychologist on multiple projects, both international sponsor-initiated (IDEA FAST, Enroll-HD), as well as local researcher-initiated projects from colleagues.


What is your specific role within IDEA-FAST? What do your tasks include?

I am the site coordinator at the LUMC, and I run almost all parts of our site-specific COS tasks by myself, ranging from administrative tasks and recruitment to conducting the visits with participants. I also supervise a couple of students who help with data upload/transfer to UCAM and the DMP.


What is IDEA-FAST, and why is it important? How can it change the future of chronically ill patients?

IDEA-FAST is a project not just about understanding one disease, but about a mechanism underlying multiple diseases. I’m very interested in whether the mechanisms behind fatigue and tiredness have any overlap between diseases, or even between neurodegenerative/immune-mediated diseases. Especially for rare diseases like HD, research can be slow and/or underfunded. It is easier to explain the societal relevance of curing PD or IBD, since it is more common, and thus more people would benefit from the research outcomes. Trying to find out whether the mechanism is the same for HD could help in drawing other parallels for related problems, such as apathy or restlessness and irritability.


What challenges have you encountered so far within the project? How have you overcome these impediments?

To me, IDEA FAST is a project where I have learned the most about behind-the-screens regulatory aspects surrounding a study start-up. The other projects I work on are either well-established and have been running for a long time (Enroll-HD), or are smaller, less complex studies requiring less administrative oversight. IDEA-FAST really showed me how complex projects with multiple partners can be managed, especially when there are less clear sponsor/trial site distinctions, as is usually the case for medication trials