3 September 2018

Faculty of Science Life Sciences researchers honoured in four Horizon projects

Albert Heck and Wim Goettsch to lead two major European research projects

Life Sciences researchers at the Faculty of Science are involved in four major collaborative European Horizon 2020 projects. Two of these projects are led by researchers at Utrecht University: Albert Heck (EPIC-XS) and Wim Goettsch (HTx). Professors Aletta Kraneveld (GEMMA) and Alexandre Bonvin (BioExcel-2) are involved in two other projects.

Horizon2020 is the European subsidy programme for research and innovation in Europe. These subsidies are provided as part of the ‘Excellent Science’ and ‘Societal Challenges’ programmes. In total, the four projects will receive 41.5 million euros in subsidies, including 4.9 million euros for the research groups at Utrecht University.


EPIC-XS – Albert Heck
Albert Heck
EPIC-XS - Prof. Albert Heck

In life sciences research, technologies that enable large-scale studies of the proteins in our bodies (proteomics), promise to be even more revolutionary than genomics for understanding the molecular mechanisms of complex biological systems and their (mal-)functions in health and disease. As a result, there is a strongly growing need for the integration of proteomic technologies into world-class life sciences research programs in medicine, agriculture, food, biotechnology, and materials.

The European Proteomics Infrastructure Consortium providing Access (EPIC-XS), that is led by Prof. Albert Heck, brings together a consortium of world-leading, highly innovative European proteomics facilities with the shared goal of supporting excellent life sciences research in Europe. This will be achieved by providing access to cutting-edge proteomics facilities, and by developing and implementing novel mass spectrometry based proteomics and bioinformatics approaches to shape the future life sciences research in Europe. Heck is a leading proteomics pioneer. Last summer he received both the prestigious Sir Hans Krebs Medal and the Thomson Medal and Prize.  

EPIC-XS will provide users with unrivalled access to world-leading facilities and expertise, while simultaneously extending Europe’s leading international role in the. EPIC-XS meets the widespread current demands for user access, addresses present bottlenecks in the field and will open up entirely new perspectives in proteomics.

BioExcel-2 – Alexandre Bonvin
Prof. Alexandre Bonvin

BioExcel-2, in which Prof. Alexandre Bonvin participates, is a continuation of the succesful BioExcel Centre of Excellence for Computational Biomolecular Research that was launched in 2015 with support from the European Research Council. The group of Bonvin is internationally renowned for their simulation tool HADDOCK for integrative modelling of biomolecular complexes, that currently has over 11,500 users in 96 countries.

Life Sciences have become increasingly digital and this is accelerating. Computational techniques play key roles in processing, analysis and generating new knowledge from experiments, even in replacing them. This has been enabled due to tremendous advances in techniques such as docking and molecular simulations at both atomistic and quantum levels to which world-leading European research and software are contributing.

Pushing computational capabilities towards Exascale will advance the area, enabling researchers to tackle increasingly complex questions related to biomolecules' function, mechanisms, dynamics and interactions. This will impact on our daily life, in health, for the development of new drugs and efficient drug delivery methods, in biotechnology, environment, agriculture, food industry and education.

To exploit this great computational power, in academia and industry, significant efforts on software efficiency, scaling, usability and education are needed. This is the mission of the BioExcel Centre of Excellence for Computational Biomolecular Research. It has made significant contributions by focusing on highest-impact European codes, workflows and an extensive, international education program. BioExcel-2 will continue and expand this work, with a focus on Exascale impact, improved usability, expanded training and commercial applications, while strengthening its user-driven governance.

GEMMA -Aletta Kraneveld
Prof. Aletta Kraneveld
Prof. Aletta Kraneveld

GEMMA, the project Prof. Aletta Kraneveld participates in, will be the first to combine a multi-omic approach with robust environmental data to exploit the analysis of the composition and function of the microbiome for personalized treatment and, ultimately, disease interception in infants at risk of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) . The project will provide solid mechanistic evidence of the disease onset and progression in relation to dynamic changes in abnormal gut microbiota causing epigenetic modifications controlling gut barrier and immune functions, based on the in-depth evaluation of 600 infants at risk observed from birth and followed over time.

These data will be integrated with preclinical studies to mechanistically link human microbiota composition/function with clinical outcome through humanized murine models transplanted with stools obtained from the ASD proband patient of recruited families. The project will support novel personalized prediction (personalized treatment) and disease interception (prevention) approaches that attempt to modulate gut microbiota to re-establish/maintain immune homeostasis.

The biomarkers identified in this project will contribute to a better understanding of the pathogenesis of ASD in at-risk children and the possibility to manipulate the microbiota through pre/pro/symbiotic administration for prevention and treatment, a complete paradigm shift in ASD pathogenesis and early intervention. The identification of specific ASD metabolic phenotypes will further aid to define biomarkers that can be used as diagnostic tools and patient stratification models for other conditions in which the interplay between genome, microbiome and metabolic profile has been suspected or proved.

Finally, the project will collect biospecimens from a cohort of 600 infants as risk of ASD observed from birth, generating a unique biobank of 16,000+ blood, stool, urine and saliva samples prospectively collected that can be exploited in future multiomic studies

HTx – Wim Goettsch
Prof. Wim Goettsch
Dr. Wim Goettsch

HTx, the project led by Wim Goettsch, will create a framework for next generation Health Technology Assessment (HTA) that supports patient-centred, societally oriented, and real-time decision-making for integrated healthcare throughout Europe. HTx will focus on therapeutic areas with high unmet need for which HTA information has to be provided on complex and personalised combinations of health technologies. Wim Goettsch is Associate Affiliate Professor of International Collaboration in Health Technology Assessment at Utrecht University as well as special HTA-advisor at the Dutch National Health Care Institute (Zorginstituut Nederland). 

Based on a select number of relevant case studies, HTx will enhance methods for integrating evidence from RCTs and real-world data (RWD). HTx will also augment statistical and econometric methods for generating robust estimates of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in order to support relevant HTA decision-making for these complex and personalised combinations of health technologies.

HTx will also contribute to improving methods to support personalised treatment advice fitted for sharing with patients and their physicians. This includes the development of statistical and econometric approaches and artificial intelligence/machine learning methods for forecasting treatment effects in specific groups of patients.

Simultaneously, in close collaboration with the European Network for HTA (EUnetHTA), HTx will improve synergies between regulatory agencies, HTA bodies and clinical guideline developers. This will include the translation of HTx methods into already existing European guidelines, most prominently those developed by EUnetHTA.

HTx will also support initial efforts to discuss reimbursement and funding models that facilitate controlled access to and the pricing of these complex health technologies. Finally, we will evaluate the transferability of HTx results into all EU Member Countries especially in Central and Eastern European (CEE) Countries and promote the dissemination of HTx results to the different European stakeholders with a special focus on the patient community.