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TiFN PhD fellow Yfke de Vries “Communicating clearly on what you do, how and why is essential”

14 October 2017 - TiFN PhD fellow Yfke de Vries has been investigating changes in taste and flavour perception during chemotherapy, in breast and oesophagogastric cancer patients. The scientist, who defended her thesis on September 1, 2017 at Wageningen University, was impressed with the outcomes: “Advanced sensory research is vital in developing medical nutrition that meets vulnerable patients’ specific needs and preferences.”

De Vries measured patients’ experiences of changes, as well as objective changes, in taste and smell perception. “Their capability to sense odours remained normal, but their taste perception changed”, she says. “Changes manifested as decreased liking and consumption of certain foods.” Breast cancer patients tended towards less fat and protein. “Medical nutrition usually contains high levels of protein, so this is important new information for product developers.”

De Vries often conducted smell and taste tests in patients’ homes. Some of their responses were rather impressing. “People told me they always had a bad taste in their mouth, or experienced flavours as very intense. In the perception of one particular patient, tea smelled like a zoo, and potatoes with garlic like a garage”, she illustrates. “Changes in taste and smell perception can thus have an enormous impact on daily life.”

Valuable suggestions
The PhD fellow found participation in the expert meetings with TiFN industry partners as very constructive and educational. “They came up with valuable questions and suggestions that helped me take my research to the next level.”

In her time at TiFN, De Vries also learned how important it is to communicate clearly what you do, and how and why. “I worked in a team with supervisors and other PhD fellows with different backgrounds, opinions and ideas”, she explains. “I needed excellent arguments to convince of the new directions my research took.”

Her enhanced communication skills have already proven valuable in De Vries’ new job as a food, health and taste concept designer at Avebe. “I am part of an innovation team focusing on valorising elements of potato waste streams, such as proteins”, she says. “The team consists of process designers, bioengineers and biochemists. In order to move forward, clear communication on the why and how of our work is essential.”

Changing sides
De Vries is still involved in sensory research, though in a different setting than during her TiFN adventure. “Now I’m sitting on the other side of the table”, she says. “This allows me to far better understand what industry partners aim to achieve in their collaboration with knowledge institutes.”

Want to read more about De Vries’ research? Click here.