10 questions for Michael Rutgers, Lung Foundation Netherlands

Jul 1, 2020

One of Michael Rutgers’ aims is to help prevent smoking in children and young people and help adults to quit smoking. Michael is the Managing Director of the Lung Foundation Netherlands, passionately committed to promoting clean-air and healthy lungs.

How would you describe yourself?

I am more or less married to my work and I really enjoy being a part of the Lung Foundation Netherlands. We like to stimulate international research endeavors. Our ultimate goal is to eradicate all lung diseases. It is important to me to feel connected to the work that I do. Right now, I feel I am exactly where I should be.

What motivates you to do what you are doing?

I am extremely motivated to help prevent smoking initiation in children. We work together with 170 societal partners in order to achieve this goal. I also believe in international collaboration and research. My drive is to bring the best researchers in the world together to help lung research continuously move forward, because I believe in the power of our community. Together we are much stronger!

We learned from a previous interview that you see yourself more as a Key Opinion Leader in the field than as the head of the Lung Foundation. Could you please elaborate on this?

Yes, I don’t see myself as a manager but rather as an opinion leader whose main focus is to inspire and encourage others by sharing new and innovative ideas around almost everything we do within the organization. I believe that organizations should create an environment where everyone feels comfortable with sharing their ideas and even defend them in a reasonable way without being scared of making mistakes. Personally, I don’t shy away from risky endeavors and I do not get stuck in failures. We have to accept that people can make mistakes and when needed, we do our best to fix them.

The Lung Foundation Netherlands has set some very ambitious goals. What do you think are the most important conditions to achieve these goals?

The patients are always at the forefront of our minds. We seek real solutions for patients by collaborating with different types of organizations. Together with our collaborators as well as our volunteers and staff, whose passion and dedication are indispensable, we are steadily moving towards our goals. The electronic nose, SpiroNose, for example, has enabled a rapid method for diagnosing and subtyping lung diseases. This beautiful and innovative solution has been developed partly through research funding from the Lung Foundation Netherlands and was awarded for best clinical research according to patients and their families.

”I think the SpiroNose, which is linked to an online analysis platform, can play an important role in delivering the correct diagnosis. This is the most important part in the patients’ treatment process.”

What do you consider to be one of your greatest achievements?

The collaboration with e.g. Peter Sterk and Rianne de Vries that involves the development of the SpiroNose is one of the achievements that I am proud of. I feel confident that breath analysis by eNose technology will be of great importance in diagnosing and treating lung diseases. Another great achievement of our foundation is the prevention agreement with the Ministry of Health and with the government. We have created 132 measures which will help to prevent smoking initiation in children. I am very proud to see that the societal support for less smoking and a smoke-free environment for children is rapidly growing.

Obviously, the Lung Foundation Netherlands is involved in and a sponsor of many innovative projects. Can you explain your vision on how to select the most promising projects?

The decision is made based on an assessment of scientific and societal impact. We have three patients in our research committee who work with 25 other patients to evaluate the societal relevance of all applications. The accepted applications are the ones that have high scientific quality and that patients consider most relevant. I think it is very important that patients are deeply involved in this process, and I truly believe that this is how we can improve the lives of many.

The Lung Foundation Netherlands was involved early on in the development of the electronic nose, the “SpiroNose” that is now manufactured by Breathomix. What was the most appealing to you regarding this project?

The enthusiasm and hard-work of Peter Sterk, the original initiator of this project and his motivation to complete it was extremely compelling to me. The people who work with Peter, like Rianne de Vries, are just as motivated. Besides this, the promise that diagnosing asthma, COPD and lung cancer would be simple, non-invasive and without any additional burden is very appealing. Lung diseases are often difficult to diagnose and the correct diagnosis is crucial for providing the best possible treatment.

 What do you consider the biggest advantages of exhaled breath analysis using the SpiroNose compared to other tests that are common in clinical practice?

This is an easy one. The SpiroNose is quick and decisive. The latter will help physicians for correct and early diagnosis of lung disease. In my opinion, this is the most important part in the patients’ treatment process, because early and correct diagnosis helps to target the right treatment to the right patient at the right moment. Additionally, compared to other diagnostic tests used in clinical practice, exhaled breath analysis by SpiroNose is easy and non-invasive, which is important for both patients and physicians.

 What is the greatest wish of the Lung Foundation Netherlands?

Our greatest wish is that all children between 13 and 16 years do not start smoking. In addition, we really wish to see the SpiroNose broadly implemented in primary and secondary care in the Netherlands. For that, physicians need to be willing to learn how to work with this “new” technology and insurance companies need to be willing to reimburse the costs involved in using it.

And last but not least: what is your life motto?

Think in solutions, not in problems!

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