Experience of a researcher


- by Yara Poel

Linda van Kerkhof works as a researcher for the RIVM and used Lifelines data for her work multiple times. Recently Linda hit national news with her publication: “Effect of evening screen use on sleep and health in children and adolescents”. For this publication she also made use of Lifelines data. In an interview we asked her about her research and her experiences with Lifelines. Below you can read the interview. 

What is the reason you conducted research on blue light and screen usage?
Technological advancements over the past decades have increased our use of light emitting screens in the evening. There is an accumulating concern regarding the use of screens in the evening with LED technologies (smartphones, tablets etc.) since these devices emit a large portion of short wavelength light (“blue light”). Blue light comprises the most potent Zeitgeber for resetting our biological clock, consequently blue light exposure in the evening will delay the biological rhythm. Generally, despite this resetting of the biological clock, the time that people have to get up for work/education etc. in the morning remains the same. This will result in a social jetlag that, when experienced regularly, might become a chronic disturbance. This is of particular concern in youngsters, who tend to have a late chronotype. This means that they tend to go to sleep late in the evening. Hence, exposure to light emitting screens in the evening might particularly disturb their biological rhythms and might have detrimental health effects. This project was commissioned by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). 

How did you find Lifelines and why did you choose to utilize Lifelines data?
We are always interested in cohort studies performed in the Netherlands in relation to different research projects and were therefore already somewhat familiar with Lifelines. We decided to use Lifelines data since it allows  the easy collection of new data in a broad age group (children, adolescents and adults) and linkage with a large available biobank.Therefore, Lifelines is also useful for our other research project on shift work. 

How did Lifelines and Lifelines data contribute to your research?
Lifelines offers a broad biobank with many options for research. The possibility to obtain more data of our interest in a timely fashion was also essential for our project. The data we collected through Lifelines was an important part of the research project and it is good that this data will be available for further studies by other researchers. 

What is your opinion on the communication with Lifelines? For example, how did you perceive the application process, data access and services?
Well, the application process, including the required contracts and METC approval for performing the study, took a little bit of getting used to and quite a lot of time. I think Lifelines is continuously working on improving these processes and this will get better in the future. The thing I really like is that you get one contact person within Lifelines who you can contact with all your questions. This person also really helped in getting things done and tried to facilitate our needs as researchers. 

Would you recommend Lifelines to other researchers or organizations? If so, why?
Yes, mainly because of the unique longitudinal biobankand the possibilities to acquire more data from a large cohort with different age groups.  Furthermore the organized infrastructure for collection and storage of data ensures  that you don’t have to worry about that. Limitations could be the financial investment, in particular when you want to collect additional data. Ownership of the data might be an issue for some organizations as well.