Ruud A. Veldhuizen

Ruud A. Veldhuizen

Associate Professor

BMSc Honours Specialization in Biochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, Dr. Ir Gijssen Intituut, Utrecht, The Netherlands 
PhD Biochemistry of Surfactants, University of Western Ontario
Post-Doctoral Fellowship Surfactant in Acute Lung Injury, University of Toronto

Office: Lawson Research Institute, Room G454
p. 519.646.6100 x. 64092

Website: The Lung Lab


Why Science?
In school I was good at science, and that encouraged me to pick science classes during my bachelor's degree which I enjoyed. However, only during my 4th-year thesis research project I got to do experiments and experience real science; that is when I realized that I loved it. I received my bachelor's in the Netherlands, and my undergraduate degree was equivalent to an honors program here. I came to Canada for graduate school and ended up doing my PH.D. in biochemistry at Western University. My project explored various aspects of the pulmonary surfactant system. I then continued my studies during a fellowship at Western University followed by two more short post-doctoral fellowships in Netherland and Toronto. During these experiences, I was studying the physiology of pulmonary surfactant and their role in acute lung injury and disease.

What fascinates me the most in my area of work is that it seems very focused, but in reality, it is very diverse because of the variety of existing surfactants. Moreover, we are not just focused on the physiological aspect of surfactants, but also on biochemical, clinical, and pharmacological. I like that our research allows us to breach different scientific disciplines, and I think my training set me up pretty well for this.

Research Goals and Interests
The overarching focus of my lab is pulmonary surfactant and its role in health and disease. The current surfactant research is focused on three aspects. The first project is focused on understanding how surfactants perform their biological function to reduce surface tension and to facilitate normal breathing. The second project is to understand how surfactant is affected in different lung diseases and other conditions such as sepsis and ARDS. This includes an interest in how the lung in general, and surfactant specifically, is affected by vaping. Vaping is very popular, especially in the younger population, but the impact on lung health are largely unknown.  Although vaping juices are supposedly non-toxic, general toxicity is different from the potential effects when inhaling the vaporized substance into your lungs.  Our research focuses on the impact of vapour on the pulmonary surfactant system, which is the first substance the vapour interacts with when reaching the deeper areas of the lung. The third area of our research is focused on studying therapies that are based on pulmonary surfactants. Exogenous surfactants are now used clinically to treat premature babies. We are, however, investigating if this material can be used in other lung conditions either by itself (for example, as part of the treatment for COVID-19) or combined with other drugs to help facilitate delivery of those drugs into the lung. Normally, due to the complex structure of the lungs, it is hard to deliver drugs to the deep region through all the branching, but the surfactant may help facilitate this process by acting as a delivery agent for other medications.

My current research focuses on the physiology of gap junction channels, including molecular/structural mechanisms of gap junction channel docking, single channel conductance, and voltage-dependent gating properties. Gap junction channels are of particular interest as they mediate direct intercellular communication in virtually all tissues. Mutations in the genes encoding for gap junctions were found to link to more than a dozen inherited diseases, such as deafness, peripheral and central hypomyelination diseases, cataracts, cardiac arrhythmias, and skin diseases. My laboratory works on figuring out how these channels work, as well as how disease-linked mutants change their function. Our goal is to have a comprehensive understanding of gap junction channels and to develop novel treatments for many gap junction related diseases.

Scientific Approaches Used in the Lab
There are some techniques we use that are highly specific to our lab. To study surfactant and its role in the reduction of surface tension, we use the constrained sessile droop surfactometer (CSDS) which is a highly specific machine that was custom-made for our lab. This machine helps us assess how surfactant works or how it is inhibited in the case of vaping or other lung diseases. As for more general techniques, we work with animal models of lung injury and sepsis to study how these conditions affect surfactants. We use surgical techniques to induce sepsis or other lung injuries and monitor animals’ physiology to study how well their lungs function and then analyze their lungs and surfactant to determine underlying mechanisms to understand the development of the disease

For more information about our lab’s projects, please visit our lab’s website: 

Most Rewarding Moments
People come to work at our lab in the early 20s and leave the lab at 24-25. It is rewarding to see these students do well in the lab, further develop their career interest and being successful after they leave whether that is in science or in another career. Science and publishing are rewarding as well but making a contribution to the long-term success of students is the most rewarding to me.

Interests Outside of Academia
It is important for me to stay active; I used to play soccer, but now I like to run and bike. I think it is good to have friends outside of academia because you can get the mind of your job, and it helps to put research into perspective when you realize that the people you are running with do not care about pulmonary surfactant.

Undergraduate Teaching
PHYS 3120 Human Physiology (instructor)
PHYS 4200A/B Current Topics in Respiratory Health & Disease (instructor)
PHYS/PHARM 3000E Physiology and Pharmacology laboratory (instructor)
PHYS/PHARM 4980E Seminar and research project (undergraduate thesis supervisor)

See all my publications on PubMed.

Highlighted Publications
Veldhuizen RAW, Zuo YY, Petersen NO, Lewis JF, and Possmayer F. (2020) The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Target for Surfactant Therapy?  DOI: 10.1080/17476348.2021.1865809

Baer B, Veldhuizen EJA, Molchanova  N, Jekhmane S, Weingarth M, Jenssen H, Lin JS, Barron AE, Yamashita C, and Veldhuizen RAW. (2020) Optimizing Exogenous Surfactant as a Pulmonary Delivery Vehicle for Chicken Cathelicidin-2. Sci Rep 10;10(1):9392. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-66448-1.

Czyzewski AM,  McCaig LM, Broering LA, Yao LJ, Dohm MT, Brown NJ, Didwania MK, Lin JS, Lewis JF, Veldhuizen RAW, and Barron AE.  (2018) Effective in vivo treatment of acute lung injury with helical, amphipathic peptoid mimics of pulmonary surfactant proteins. Sci Rep. (2018) 8:6795.  DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-25009-3. (co-corresponding author)

Tyml K, Swarbreck S, Pape C, Koropatnick J, Feng Q, Veldhuizen RAW, and Gill SE. (2017) Voluntary running exercise protects against sepsis-induced early inflammatory and pro-coagulant responses in aged mice. Crit Care. 21(1):210. doi: 10.1186/s13054-017-1783-1.

Baer B, Souza LMP, Pimentel AS, Veldhuizen RAW. (2019) New insights into exogenous surfactant as a carrier of pulmonary therapeutics. Biochem Pharmacol. 164:64-73. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2019.03.036.