Seven Utrecht-based researchers receive Vici grant
Laureates at Faculties of Science, Humanities and the UMC Utrecht
The Dutch Research Council (DRC, in Dutch: NWO) has awarded Vici grants to seven researchers from Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht. They will each receive up to EUR 1.5 million for research.
Vici is one of the largest personal scientific grants in the Netherlands. Advanced researchers in the Netherlands can apply for it. The award offers laureates the opportunity to develop an innovative line of research and further develop their own research group over the next five years. A total of 34 researchers will receive the Vici grant.
Laureates and research topics
Tracing Marine Macroplastics by Unraveling the Ocean’s Multiscale Transport Processes
The plastic polluting our ocean is an atrocity, and this project will help clean-up efforts. And at the same time, the floating plastic provides a unique opportunity to improve our fundamental understanding of ocean transport processes.
Marine plastic pollution is a growing global problem, with plastic litter being found almost everywhere in our ocean. But the concentration of plastic is not uniform, with some beaches having much higher concentrations than others. So why does marine plastic accumulate in these hotspots? And how do ocean processes control this accumulation? With his Vici project, Prof. Erik van Sebille aims to better understand the accumulation of marine plastic in northwestern European waters. His research team will unravel and predict the oceanic transport, fragmentation, and beaching processes that act on floating macroplastic: plastic items larger than 5 centimeters.
Bridging the gap: How proteins rule cell junctions and cell junctions rule proteins
It is fantastic that we can now start new research into the processes that provide interaction and communication between cells.
In his Vici project, dr. Bert Janssen will visualize at the atomic level how proteins keep cells in our body at the right distance from each other and how this affects communication between cells. These tiny and precisely calibrated distances have a major influence on the formation and functioning of cell tissues. For example, in the nervous system, the distance determines how fast nerve cells can function. It also determines how cells differentiate into specific cell types and tissues. When this distance is not properly regulated, diseases such as cancer and neuronal disorders can develop. Understanding more about how proteins operate between cells may provide new leads for treating these diseases.
Systematic identification of DNA methylation response elements and their readers
In addition to the biological insights that we obtain, the outcomes will be instrumental in understanding the meaning of DNA methylation changes observed in certain human diseases.
Our genetic code contains over twenty thousand genes, regions of DNA that are translated into proteins. The activity of these genes needs to be tightly regulated to make sure cells function properly and to prevent diseases like cancer. Genes can be turned “on” or “off” by chemical modifications of the DNA that do not alter the DNA sequence itself. One such modifications is methylation, a process by which methyl groups are added to certain regions in the DNA. Methylation has the potential to switch genes off, but not all genes are repressed by it. It is not yet well understood which genes respond to methylation and how the response is mediated. Prof. Tuncay Baubec will use a combination of experimental and computational assays to gain insights into the factors that play in a role in the response of genes to methylation. Baubec’s novel approach allows for the analysis of hundreds of factors at the same time.
Rosewater, nightingale and gunpowder: A sensory history of the Islamic world, 1500-1900
For me, the Vici is great news: it offers the opportunity to continue and expand my line of research, which I follow with passion.
Christian Lange: The Vici grant will help me and my team shine a spotlight on less well-known dimensions - regions, languages and periods - of Islamic cultural history, shifting the focus from the Arab Middle East to the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire of the Safavids, and the Empire of the Indian Mughals. This consolidates Utrecht's position as a creative hub of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies in Europe. For me, the Vici is great news: it offers me the opportunity to continue and expand my line of research, which I follow with passion.
How nerve cells end pain with the help of immune cells
This grant is a good boost for pain research in general: more attention to the more than billion people with chronic pain.
Niels Eijkelkamp, Associate Professor at the Center for Translational Immunology (CTI), received a Vici grant for his research on the mechanism behind turning off pain. Twenty percent of the world population has some form of chronic pain. His group will investigate how pain nerve cells and immune cells work together to actively stop pain after inflammation. With the goal of understanding why chronic pain occurs.
With more fundamental knowledge about how the body stops pain, Niels hopes to find starting points for therapies against chronic pain. Niels: "Most treatments focus on reducing pain by stopping the mechanisms that maintains pain. These medications are not very effective. Instead, we want to see how we can mimic the mechanisms that cells use to actively stop pain." In addition, Niels emphasizes: "This grant is a good boost for pain research in general: more attention to the more than billion people with chronic pain."
How big antibodies kill bacteria
The Vici grant gives my group a unique opportunity to accelerate medicine development.
Suzan Rooijakkers, Professor of Medical Microbiology, received a Vici grant. Her research will map how our immune system clears bacteria. She will investigate why IgM, our immune system's largest antibodies, are better at killing bacteria than other antibodies.
Suzan: "The fundamental knowledge we gain from this research could be a starting point for developing better vaccines or antibody therapies against bacterial infections." Due to problems with antibiotic resistance – where bacteria became insensitive to antibiotics -, alternative therapies for bacteria are needed. Suzan explains: "The development of new therapies is still lagging behind for bacteria. The Vici grant gives my group a unique opportunity to accelerate the development of these types of drugs."
Repair of the injured newborn brain
With this grant, we can get new insights about the brain's repair capacity. Ultimately, it will allow us to take the next step toward improved stem cell-based therapy for newborns, giving them a better quality of life after brain damage.
Cora Nijboer, Associate Professor in the DDOD lab (Department for Developmental Origins of Disease), has received a Vici grant for her research that focuses on repairing brain damage in newborn babies using stem cell therapy.
Cora: "Through previous research we know that so-called 'mesenchymal' stem cells can reduce brain damage, but now we want to investigate in detail what the underlying mechanisms are. By understanding these repair mechanisms, we can support the repair of brain damage in babies." Cora calls the Vici grant a fantastic opportunity: "With this grant, we can get new insights about the brain's repair capacity. Ultimately, it will allow us to take the next step toward improved stem cell-based therapy for newborns, giving them a better quality of life after brain damage."