A gift from heaven
Research on women’s health, childhood obesity, a cancer screening tool, anxiety in older people with dementia, severe brain damage—Maastricht University researchers affiliated with the University Fund Limburg work on a wide range of topics. What do they have in common? They are bursting with pioneering ideas for research of great importance to society, but often lack the funding to bring them to fruition. Yet our world is in dire need of researchers who dare to dream big.
Universities are increasingly dependent on private donations. Marcel Aries, a neurointensivist at the Maastricht University Medical Centre+, knows this all too well. He founded the Brain Battle Fund over five years ago and has since, with colleagues and volunteers, raised tens of thousands of euros through crowdfunding and public-health campaigns. Their goal is to save as many brain cells as possible and raise awareness of brain damage. But this requires money—a great deal of money. Receiving a bequest can make all the difference to a foundation like his.
Helmets depicting healthy brains
Aries previously featured in UMagazine in 2019, when his initiative was still in its infancy. The Brain Battle Fund has since grown into a strong organisation with a distinct identity both in and outside UM. “Five years ago, our focus was on reaching out through sports events, roundtable discussions, lectures and auctions. Today, people find us. For example, the Jumbo-Visma cycling team and their helmet supplier Lazer made us their charity of choice at this year’s Paris-Roubaix race. Their riders wore special helmets depicting healthy, pink brains, which were later auctioned off. It was a milestone for us. As our reputation grows, we can devote more time to our research on acute brain damage. That’s why we’re constantly looking for funding.”
Marcel Aries is a neurointensivist at the Maastricht UMC+. He established the Brain Battle Fund in 2017. To read about its latest activities and options for supporting the fund, please visit hersenstrijd.org.
Bequest funds two PhD projects
In early 2023, the Brain Battle Fund received what Aries describes as a ‘gift from heaven.’ A private individual included the fund in her will, leaving a generous portion of her estate to UM. Such a donation can trigger a major scientific breakthrough. “For a researcher, it’s a kind of catalyst,” Aries explains. “A bequest opens doors, enabling us to apply for grants that require a financial contribution, collaborate with other researchers or travel abroad.”
The Brain Battle Fund had been saving up for a second PhD project—a dream that suddenly became a reality. “Our first PhD project investigated a new treatment for intensive-care patients who had been in a serious accident. This second project involves a broader target group, including intensive-care patients with brain damage due to bleeding or infection. Brain monitoring has been neglected in intensive-care medicine; we aim to change that. We’re already saving up for our next goal: hiring a postdoc.”
Invitation to creativity
A bequest gives researchers the freedom to be creative. Without the usual checklist of conditions and requirements, researchers have more freedom. “A research field like acute brain damage cries out for creativity. When it comes to intensive care, there’s been no major discovery in the past 25 years. This needs to change. We want to give our PhD candidates the creativity and freedom to arrive at groundbreaking insights.”
Generous bequests also make researchers feel personally supported in their work. “It’s an amazing feeling to know that this person cared so deeply about my research. I put so much effort into the Brain Battle Fund every day. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder if all the hours you’re putting in are worth it. But when you hear that someone has left you such a personal and valuable gift, everything falls into place.”
Text: Anouk van den Brink
Photography: Harry Heuts
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