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Research Shows Science And Technology Play A Key Role In A Healthy, Circular Future

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During the annual conference of the EWUU alliance (TU/e, WUR, UU, UMC Utrecht), held in the Omnia dialogue centre in Wageningen on 19 April, the alliance partners will show how collaborating across the borders of the scientific disciplines can contribute to a healthy planet. The theme of this edition is entitled ‘Crossing Boundaries for a Healthy and Sustainable Future’.

Since 2020 Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), Wageningen University & Research (WUR), Utrecht University (UU) and the University Medical Centre Utrecht (UMC Utrecht) have been collaborating to jointly address urgent societal challenges.

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus of WUR and host of the annual conference 2023: ’I believe that science and technology can and should play a key role in creating a healthy and sustainable future. But, to this end, we must join forces and work across disciplines. That is precisely what the EWUU alliance is about. Thus, we can offer a unique contribution to the scientific breakthroughs society so urgently needs.’

A multifaceted approach to health
Marianne Geleijnse, Vice President of the Health Council, will discuss the challenges and implications of a broader view of health during the conference. She discusses current public health challenges and the role of science in health policy.

The Preventive Health initiative of the EWUU alliance is in line with this broader view of health. One of the projects funded by the collaboration is the LIFTS research project. Approximately 7.2 per cent of Dutch youths has a minor intellectual disability. They struggle to learn and frequently grow up in a disadvantaged socioeconomic setting. Making healthy choices is much more challenging for them, while the health issues in this group are increasing. Kirsten Verkooijen, LIFTS project leader and associate professor of Health & Society at WUR, states: ‘In this project, we search for feasible solutions with all parties involved. By effectively deploying health technology that fits these youngsters’ needs, desires and experiences.’

The gadgets that are used to help the youths are developed with the expertise of the TU/e. The feedback given by the youngsters is instrumental in honing the gadgets for optimal use.

Towards a circular economy in 2050
Marko Hekkert, director of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), is one of the keynote speakers of this edition. In his address, he will explore why the circular economy fails to launch and what the alliance’s role could be. He believes that there should be an increased focus on human behavioural research. In other words: how do we determine what rules apply in a circular society? At the same time, he argues that the future perspectives on a circular economy leave much to be desired regarding their clarity. That must change. ‘You must be able to imagine radical change to know what adjustments to make’, says Marko Hekkert of the PBL.

Another striking example in which the EWUU has added value is that of medicines. The production thereof requires much: resources, packaging, energy and labour. And it may also cause environmental damage. Squandering medication is a waste, both from a financial and an ecological perspective. Circular behaviour may be encouraged by preventing medicines from being dispensed in unnecessary cases or quantities, using smarter packaging and re-using medical drugs. In the EWUU’s ‘Safe Circular Hospital’ programme, the alliance also studies how society can prevent too much medication from finding its way into the sewage water. A possible outcome may be that sewage water requires less or a different kind of purification

About the strategic alliance
The motto of the strategic alliance between Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and University Medical Centre Utrecht is Challenging Future Generations. We strive to do that by putting young researchers, lecturers and students at the helm and by collaborating across the borders of the scientific disciplines. In the alliance, the four institutions combine their expertise in order to contribute to social transitions in the fields of health, food, energy and sustainability.