Our third installment of the Meet the Members series introduces us to Dr. Nicol Voermans, nominated by WMS Executive Board member, Dr. Gisèle Bonne.
Once again, our interviewer, Ruchee Patel shares what she has learned about another of the leading lights in our field.
As someone with primarily clinical proclivities and minimal experience in basic science, I learned a lot from my previous two conversations with Drs. Straub and Bonne, who have dedicated much of their career to basic and translational science. However, I personally was excited when Dr. Bonne nominated Dr. Nicol Voermans, M.D. Ph.D. to be our next feature on “Meet the Members”.
I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Voermans give a memorable keynote lecture at the WMS 2022 Congress on the topic of Congenital Myopathies in Adulthood, and participate in the WMS 2022 Debate “Clinical Trials: Should Biomarkers Replace Clinical Outcome Measures”. Since then, I have been inspired by her work as a clinician, clinical researcher, advocate and educator. Currently an adult neurologist at Radboudumc (Radboud University Medical Center) in Nijmegen, Netherlands, Dr. Voermans is making a mark in the field of neuromuscular disorders in each of these domains.
In her early training and career, Dr. Voermans was interested in neurology, particularly in diagnostic reasoning and the comprehensive care aspect of caring for patients with neurologic disease.
She initially found herself drawn to CNS deficits resulting in cognitive changes, and even started with an MRI study in Huntington’s Disease, but quickly realised that seeing patients enter and exit the study without getting anything out of their participation was not something she enjoyed.
It was during this time she met some early mentors in the neuromuscular field who inspired her clinically, modeling the comprehensive care she enjoys practicing today, in particular, Professor Baziel van Engelen and Professor George Padberg. Her Ph.D. was focused on neuromuscular manifestations of connective tissue disease, using questionnaires, physical examination findings, electrodiagnostic studies, and biopsies as outcome measures.
In addition, she studied the neuromuscular phenotype of the mouse model of one of the Ehlers-Danlos types. During this time, she collaborated with many prominent myologists, including Dr. Heinz Jungbluth and Dr. Carsten Bönnemann. It was in fact during her first WMS Congress attendance, in 2007, where she met Dr. Bönnemann at the teaching course as a student (and with the world coming full circle, Dr. Voermans herself will be teaching at this year’s course).
Dr. Nicol Voermans exploring Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada after WMS Congress 2022 came to a close.
One of her main career mentors, who is retiring in a year, is Dr. Baziel van Engelen, a translational scientist at the same institute as Dr. Voermans, who got her involved in natural history studies for facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD) and myotonic dystrophy.
Dr. Voermans’s particular interest includes congenital myopathies in adulthood. With many of these patients living into adulthood, Dr. Voermans has a passion for facilitating improvement in their quality of life as survival improves given potential treatments coming down the pipeline. We discussed how the natural history studies she is either participating in or helping lead will be crucial as new therapeutics come into trial, as they will inevitably change the course of disease for many patients.
Alongside the natural history studies in FSHD and myotonic dystrophy going into 10-year extension studies, she has worked on describing the natural history in SELENON and LAMA2-related congenital muscular dystrophies and is working towards leading the same for RYR1 and nemaline myopathies in the Netherlands.
As a new member to the field, and one with an intended pediatric focus, it was nice to hear Dr. Voermans’s perspective on caring for adults with congenital muscle disorders and learn the importance of partnership with adult neurology colleagues who will be caring for our patients as they age out of our clinics, especially with the advent of new treatments improving survival of this population.
All smiles during her outdoor adventures exploring Italy! Even got in the water for a swim with one of her sons!
Despite her clinical and translational focus, we discussed how much she enjoys partnering with her basic research colleagues at the institute and around the world!
She continues to be excited about how collaborative the field of neuromuscular medicine is, and how readily people are willing to help one another. While competitive in the field of therapeutic developments, her areas of research interests have allowed her to build a helpful network of peers, especially at conferences such as WMS, dedicated to the common goal of improving the lives of patients with neuromuscular conditions.
While she hopes future WMS Congresses can be held at more central locations, allowing for more eco-friendly travel and quick return to family, she enjoys exploring each location. She feels that the three most valuable things she takes away from the meeting are lifelong friendships, scientific updates, and career advice from more senior colleagues.
Dr. Voermans also advised networking is very important and encouraged my efforts through the social media committee meeting prominent members in the field through the “Meet the Members” series.
Dr. Nicol Voermans with Dr. Emily Oates, a colleague and friend who is currently head of the UNSW Medical Genomics Group and a neurogenetics consultant for The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network whose clinical experience is focused on infants and children with neuromuscular disorders!
It was evident that Dr. Voermans takes a keen interest in mentoring others as well. Even as we began our conversation, during my introduction, she was taking notes, interested in my training, experience and future plans. She told me that while teaching large classes is not her favorite educational activity, she values her one-on-one relationship with the Masters and Ph.D. students she supervises. On top of the five Ph.D. candidates she has already mentored through their theses, she is currently is supervising or co-supervising seven PhD. students in projects related to FSHD and another seven in projects related to congenital myopathies. She has even taught at the Annual Summer School of Myology in Paris, France, and is looking forward to lecturing at the WMS 2023 Annual Teaching Course prior to Congress!
Dr. Nicol Voermans guiding one of her Ph.D. students on how to properly perform manual muscle strength testing in clinic.
Dr. Voermans is incredibly engaged in multiple different organisations, a few of which I had the opportunity to learn more about during our conversation. For the WMS, she is an associate editor for Neuromuscular Disorders. With her engagement, she hopes to bring some degree of diversity to the editorial group, and encourage others with more diverse backgrounds to join.
I do hope one day I can be a part of her mission to ensure the leadership of our organisations more accurately reflects the diversity of its members. She just recently attended the LAMA2 Europe meeting in Barcelona, and is looking forward to the FSHD International Research Conference in Milan this June!
One organisation she really wanted to highlight for me was the European Neuromuscular Center, or ENMC, where she has served on the research committee for six years. Thirty years old and funded by the patient advocacy organisations in Europe, this is a non-profit association which organises upwards of 10 two-day workshops each year dedicated to helping researchers develop their ideas, network with others in their field, and develop consensus guidelines in the neuromuscular field.
The organisation has also recently started a mentoring programme, linking mid-career scientists and clinicians with more senior mentors to discuss anything from research ideas to career advice.
Dr. Nicol Voermans with Dr. Victor Dubowitz (left), the Founding Editor-In-Chief of Neuromuscular Disorders and Jane Miller (middle), Editorial Assistant of Neuromuscular Disorders at WMS Congress 2022. Dr. Voermans is an Associate Editor of the journal!
Despite her amazing achievements and commitments, Dr. Voermans loves to be outdoors every opportunity she gets. From swimming in Italy to tending to her own vegetable garden.
She doesn’t have a favorite vacation spot, but as long as there are outdoor activities, she is up for it! Dr. Voermans even tries her hardest with the little time she may get just before starting or leaving a conference to explore any outdoor sightseeing the location has to offer. She is already looking forward to the sailing excursion in Charleston she just signed up for! And based on my conversations with both of them, it seems Drs. Bonne and Voermans should coordinate a hike at the next WMS Congress too!
Lettuce and tomato plants growing in Dr. Voermans’ yard! Just a small sample of her much larger garden she tends to despite her busy life academically and with her own family. It is one of her favorite hobbies as it gets her outdoors! Vegetables are her favorite to grow, tomatoes being amongst the top!
I am very much looking forward to seeing Dr. Voermans in person at the WMS Congress 2023 (register now if you haven’t already), learning about the progress on her natural history studies, and discovering what plants she had growing in her garden between now and then! Thank you for the opportunity to meet you, Dr Voermans, what a true joy and privilege!
By Ruchee Patel, MD (The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Pediatric Neurology Resident PGY-5)
Published on 21 April 2023.
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