An interview with a man who was involved with the establishment of Symeres, someone with a unique hobby, the choices he made, and what his plans are for when he hangs up his lab coat for good.
An interview with Wolter ten Hoeve – Principal Scientist at Symeres Groningen
Well, I was better in mathematics than in chemistry, but it seemed a bit boring to me. I had good grades in chemistry as well, so I decided to choose this field of study. I find chemical transformations fascinating and I like to craft things.
I started my study in 1969 and did PhD work in the group of Professor Wijnberg from 1974 until 1979. Afterwards, I went to Colorado for two years of postdoctoral research and have really good memories of this time. The research went well and, based on my results, Professor Meyers published a good number of articles, so I made a good impression. After two years, I joined the medicinal chemistry group of Wim Vaalburg, followed by a postdoctoral stay at the group of Professor Wijnberg, who played a key role in my career. Afterwards, I became one of the co-founders of Syncom.
Professor Wijnberg and Ton Vries (our former CEO) thought a management position would be something for me, but, to be honest, it’s not really something I would like. It doesn’t suit me and my happy place is working in the lab. That’s what I do best!
Cacti! This started when I was a student and my friends told me to get some plants for my room. So, I chose something that’s easy to maintain. I bought three cacti at a well-known Dutch variety store (i.e., HEMA) and I was sold. Then I found out there was even a national cactus association, which I became a member of. Even at the university labs I kept cacti on the windowsill! At this moment, I have three greenhouses in my backyard with a total of 47 m².
I’ve been to Mexico 15 times with other cactus lovers to spot different types in the rough desert. It’s not the big ones I’m looking for, but the small ones you hardly see underneath the gravel.
I have two projects that come to mind. During the first project, I developed a route for a potential medicine. This medicine is nowadays being tested on patients who have a so-called orphan disease. This is a disease that only a few people have and it’s a genetic disorder. There is a good chance that this drug will come onto the market, and I’m very proud to have made a significant contribution.
The second project is an interesting and challenging project, which is almost completed. I do research on trans-cyclooctenes and the idea of these compounds is that they are able to deliver an anticancer drug at the tumor itself instead of spreading it through the whole body. The latest ideas and improvements are being implemented.
In the past, we analyzed everything with a 60 MHz NMR spectrometer, but nowadays the use of HPLC-MS for analysis increased greatly. That’s the biggest change within my career. But I’m more an NMR guy and as you get older it’s harder to keep up with new developments.
As an organization, we have grown and this brings changes. But this is something you gradually grow with.
This depends on the type of study, so it’s hard to compare. One thing you often hear from former colleagues is that it always gave them a kick when beautiful, pure crystals were produced from a solution.
Research itself is challenging and it has to suit your personality. For me, it has been my passion all these years!
To be honest, I could have retired three years ago, but I still enjoyed working and was fit and motivated to stay. So, my contract was prolonged for 2.5 years.
But now the time has come to relax and I’m looking forward to it. My plans are, of course, taking care of my cacti. After being a secretary for 25 years of the regional cactus club, including 8 years as a national secretary, I have now joined the editorial staff of the national cactus magazine. So, I’m quite busy.
Furthermore, I enjoy riding my racing bike through the beautiful nature of Drenthe (where I live), so do not be surprised if I visit Symeres Groningen (perhaps on my bike) in the near future, as well.