16 December 2013

For understanding the basic principles of internal cell organization

7,1 M€ ERC Synergy Grant for prof. Anna Akhmanova and prof. Marileen Dogterom

Prof. Anna Akhmanova from Utrecht University and prof. Marileen Dogterom, group leader at the FOM Institute AMOLF, have received a prestigious ERC Synergy Grant of 7,1 million euro for their project “MODELCELL: Building a Model Cell to Achieve Control of Cellular Organization”. The Synergy Grants of the European Research Council (ERC) are intended to enable interdisciplinary collaboration between excellent scientists.

Biologist Anna Akhmanova and physicist Marileen Dogterom aim to understand the basic principles of internal cell organization. This knowledge will eventually make it possible to control essential cellular processes such as cell movement and division. The researchers will use light to switch on or off the molecular interactions that control cytoskeletal organization, allowing them to manipulate the systems that they will study.

Cancer treatment

"What we do is fundamental research. But if we want to be able to control cell division or movement, for example, to make artificial organs for regenerative medicine or for cancer treatment, we need to know how cells work", explains Akhmanova.

Artificial cell

In their Synergy project Akhmanova and Dogterom focus on the cytoskeleton, a network of protein filaments responsible for the organization and transport of cellular components. By performing experiments both in simplified artificial cells and in real living cells, they propose to obtain insights into how the organization of the cytoskeleton is achieved and modulated in the context of different biological functions.

Much more directly

"An artificial cell can be used to reconstitute a process that normally takes place in a real cell using minimal components. This way the effect of specific manipulations can be studied much more directly", explains Dogterom.


Akhmanova works at Utrecht University. Dogterom is currently employed at AMOLF and will start as of January 1st, 2014 at Delft University of Technology. Other researchers who will contribute to the program by bringing in additional expertise are Gijsje Koenderink, Bela Mulder and Pieter Rein ten Wolde (AMOLF) and Lukas Kapitein and Sander van den Heuvel (Utrecht University).

More information

Monica van der Garde, Press Officer of the Faculty of Science, 06 13 66 14 38; m.vandergarde@uu.nl.