Rosan van Zoest awarded doctorate degree “cum laude” after successfully defending her PhD thesis on HIV and ageing

Many years of intense work, research and analysis have paid off for Rosan van Zoest who successfully defended her thesis yesterday.

Rosan first became interested in HIV while working at the OLVG hospital in Amsterdam where she encountered a young patient who suddenly lost her speech.

“I stood in front of this woman in her 30s who could no longer speak and it shocked me. It wasn’t until many examinations later we figured out that she had brain damage as a result of an HIV infection – the woman had no idea that she was HIV positive,” said Rosan.

This encounter inspired Rosan to enter the field of HIV to understand more about the virus and to conduct research that could help other people living with the virus.

Under the supervision of AIGHD’s Prof. Peter Reiss, she began her PhD in 2013 working on the AGEhIV cohort and the COBRA study. Her thesis, Ageing with HIV: from Pathogenesis to Policy, explores the relationship between HIV and ageing-related illnesses. The data has long indicated that people who live with HIV contract age-related disease like cardiovascular disease (CVDs), certain cancers, and cognitive disorders more often than HIV negative people of the same age.

Through the AGEhIV cohort and COBRA studies, Rosan and her colleagues have compared two groups that are as similar to each other as possible in terms of age and lifestyle, with the main difference being that one group has HIV and one does not. In this way the researchers have been able to more precisely isolate the effect of HIV on these illnesses.

“We have managed to show that there is a real HIV effect that impacts the health of these people. Even if you account for the normal risk factors such as smoking, they do not fully explain why individuals with HIV are more prone to ageing-related illnesses.”

After her residency at the OLVG hospital, Rosan wanted her work to have an impact on a population-scale, so she decided to go into research.

“I wanted to do a PhD because I wanted to know how science works. Prof. Peter Reiss has shown me how to translate the data in a comprehensible message so that the public can understand the results and the importance of the work that we do. As a respected scientist with a big scientific network, he gave me many opportunities to develop myself as a young scientist. I also learned a lot about statistics and HIV care from my co-promotors Dr. Ferdinand Wit and Dr. Marc van der Valk.”

Though unsure of what her next step will be, Rosan is certain about one thing – her preparedness for the next opportunity, thanks to her training.

“The training at AIGHD has opened so many possibilities for me, so now I will take some time to explore these before I start my next adventure.”