Arthur van Zanten appointed to special professorship in nutrition and metabolic stress

Published on
June 3, 2020

The Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research has appointed Arthur van Zanten, internist-intensivist at Gelderse Vallei Hospital, as professor by special appointment at the Nutritional Biology chair group as of 1 June. His research will focus on nutrition and metabolic stress and has been made possible through the Nutrition in Healthcare Alliance. The role of diet and exercise during recovery from severe illness has gained much attention, most recently due to questions about the rehabilitation of COVID-19 patients. The chair is funded by the Gelderse Vallei Hospital.

Arthur van Zanten (Bussum, 1963) graduated cum laude from his medical study at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 1988. In the 1990s he specialised as an internist at St. Clara Hospital in Rotterdam and as an intensivist at the AMC in Amsterdam, and from 1998 he worked as an internist-intensivist at the Gelderse Vallei Hospital in Ede. In 2008 he earned his PhD at VU in Amsterdam. From 2012, he shifted his focus to management of acute and complex care. As medical director and medical advisor, he provided advice to the hospital's board of directors, in particular on issues of quality and safety. Due to his growing collaboration with Wageningen University & Research, he left this management position at the end of 2019. He is currently medical head of the Intensive Care Units and is responsible for ICU research. Van Zanten is frequently invited to speak at conferences in the Netherlands and abroad.

Metabolic stress resembles stress from extreme exercise

In his research, Van Zanten focuses on metabolic stress, a phenomenon that disrupts the metabolic processes in the body. Severe metabolic stress from a serious illness can be compared to the extreme physical stress in professional sports. As a result of this stress, ICU patients can lose up to one kilogram of muscle mass per day. This can lead to years of chronic health problems, such as severe fatigue and loss of strength, difficulty with concentration, memory loss or depression. Many patients who experience metabolic stress were previously admitted to the ICU. In the Netherlands, about 100,000 people end up in the ICU every year due to severe issues such as COVID-19, an accident, or other life-threatening situations. But surgery can also cause metabolic stress.

Nutrition and exercise to promote recovery

As Professor by special appointment, Van Zanten will focus on the role of diet in recovery from metabolic stress, in particular on the question why some patients recover fully from a life-threatening physical situation and others do not. The emphasis is on the role of nutrition and exercise to promote recovery. “While the outlook for short-term recovery for ICU patients has improved significantly in recent years, we see that more and more patients continue to have persistent health problems after a period of severe illness, such as after COVID-19. There is increasing evidence that nutrition plays a major role in recovery. This starts with sufficient attention to nutrition during acute illness, but continues for a year or more after the ICU admission,” says Van Zanten. 

Research on Intensive Care

Van Zanten has conducted research in nutrition and exercise on the ICU at the Gelderse Vallei Hospital – known as the Nutrition Hospital – for more than 10 years. During this time, he has collaborated more and more frequently with Wageningen University & Research. The chair strengthens the link between specialised care such as ICU medicine, surgery and geriatrics, medical physiology and sports medicine at the Gelderse Vallei Hospital with the Food Sciences cluster of WUR, where the new chair is part of the Human Nutrition and Health chair group.

Nutrition in Healthcare Alliance

A research program on nutrition and metabolic stress has been developed through the Nutrition in Healthcare Alliance. Since 2007, Gelderse Vallei Hospital and Wageningen University & Research have collaborated as part of the Nutrition in Healthcare Alliance, which Rijnstate hospital also joined a few years ago. Through research and innovation, the Alliance translates scientific insights about nutrition into person-oriented prevention and care. To achieve this, the Alliance brings together science, healthcare practice, government agencies and public bodies and industry.