If you walk by my office, you’ll face a two-by-two meter picture of a bridge. It’s in your face, you can’t miss it. It’s a rope bridge, hanging from a precipice and reaching over an abyss, all the way across to a misty, mysterious-looking landscape with one or two trees in sight and otherwise little to be discerned. The walk across seems dodgy, you imagine yourself holding onto the ropes tightly, stepping warily over missing parts, creaking as you inch along, trying to reach the other end unscathed. Only to face the second challenge there: what will that abstruse wasteland have in store for you? Will you be able to deal with what you find?

When they first see the picture, most gape, wonder, and then ask: ‘Did you take that picture? Where is it? Borneo? West-Africa? India?’ It’s none of those actually, and I cannot suppress the tiniest chuckle when I tell them it’s ‘Ikea’, and examine their subsequent disenchantment.

Its lowbrow origin notwithstanding, the picture is an extremely enthralling one, and particularly suitable to the character of my department. Anatomy & Neurosciences aims to act as a ‘bridge’ between clinical and preclinical areas of expertise within VU University Medical Center and Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam. With five top-notch research sections and one section fully dedicated to high-end academic and post-academic (bio)medical education, we cover the entire range from basic neuroanatomy and neuro/psychopharmacology to the clinical neurosciences, with neuroimaging and neuropsychiatry as key players. As head of this department full of activity, I often feel proud and impressed by the prowess of my staff to move between these vastly different fields, translating knowledge and skill on the go, in essence crossing the bridge as if there were no risk of stepping through the mouldy wood, as if there were no undefined jungle on the other side. In reality, there is. We often don’t know whether we’ll be successful in ‘crossing the bridge’ and we don’t always know what’s on the other side. It is not that easy to connect preclinical research, where high-profile cell, tissue and animal models are used to mimic disease, to the clinical setting where phenotypes are heterogeneous and ‘causality’ is frequently ‘correlation’. Multiple interpretational steps are required, at different time points in the process. Still, all necessary innovation, all important future progress in our trade will come from our ability to successfully couple our research activities. The human organism is simply too complex to be decomposed (sorry, couldn’t resist the anatomist’s pun) into single parts.

My department connects fields and opposite sides within the VU University Medical Center; clinical and preclinical areas of expertise. But it does not do so without direction or purpose. Building bridges is a trade all of its own. Working it means you have to carefully select the areas inhabited by people who should talk to each other, but don’t yet sufficiently speak each other’s languages. So you have to speak many languages yourself, you need a broad array of skills and knowledge to interpret and prevent others from getting ‘lost in translation’. We need all kinds of lands, and we need people to connect them. Bridging, that’s what we do.