My name is Evie van der Spoel (1992) and I am currently a PhD student at the section Gerontology and Geriatrics (Internal Medicine department) of the Leiden University Medical Center. I studied Biomedical Sciences in Leiden and in January 2016 I started my PhD project under supervision of Diana van Heemst, Gerard Jan Blauw, and Hanno Pijl.

My research topic

Maintenance and repair is of key importance for the proper functioning of cells, tissues, and integrated physiology. We hypothesize that the balance between investments in growth and development versus maintenance and repair is regulated by the brain. Specifically, hormones from the pituitary seem to be key regulators in constantly adjusting this balance to its optimal state. Also, we hypothesize that ageing is associated with a disturbed balance and that longevity is associated with a prolonged ability to preserve the optimal balance throughout life. Therefore, we collected time series data on (pituitary) hormones, including glucose, insulin, cortisol, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), growth hormone (GH), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and testosterone, and physiological parameters, including heart rate and core body temperature. We do not only compare the individual parameters between offspring of long-lived families and controls, but we also determine how changes in the different hormonal axes over time are correlated with each other and with those in physiological parameters. Since hormones are secreted in a pulsatile manner and show a circadian rhythm, we sampled blood during 24 hours with 10 minutes intervals. This resulted in a rich set of complex data and therefore I am mainly using mathematical models to analyze the data.

Switchbox study

I am working on the Switchbox study, of which the overall aim is to promote health in old age by better understanding of body, brain and mind circuits. In this study, offspring of nonagenarian siblings from the Leiden Longevity Study, who have the propensity to reach old age in good health, were included. Additionally, offspring’s partners were included as controls.

Main findings

We found that higher TSH secretion, stronger TSH-fT3 temporal correlation, lower GH secretion, and stronger GH regulation, are positively associated with familial longevity. On the other hand, LH and testosterone secretion, ACTH and cortisol secretion, and core body temperature are not associated with familial longevity.

My interest in aging research

Already during my Bachelor Research Project (2013) at the section of Gerontology and Geriatrics I became very enthusiastic about performing research in the academic field, especially on the biological mechanisms of ageing and longevity. I especially enjoy the variety in activities, including developing methods, working with participants, data analysis, interpreting results, discussing with peers, writing, and presenting.

My aim

During my PhD I aim to explore the biological mechanisms of ageing and longevity with the purpose to promote healthy ageing.