22 July 2016

Utrecht chemists receive subsidy for public-private partnerships

Ineke Braakman, Bert Weckhuysen and Geert-Jan Boons

Three chemists from Utrecht have received funding for collaborations with private partners from the NWO Chemistry Innovation Fund. Prof. Geert-Jan Boons (Chemical Biology and Drug Development) will work with Friesland Campina to identify complex carbohydrates in order to produce better food products for infants. Prof. Ineke Braakman (Cellular Protein Chemistry) will cooperate with Galapagos and the Netherlands Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to study how new medications for the treatment of cystic fibrosis work. Prof. Bert Weckhuysen (Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis) is part of a consortium together with the University of Leiden, Shell, Leiden Probe Microscopy and DSM Resolve to study in real-time catalysts that could be used by the chemical industry to produce more sustainable fuels.

Chemistry Innovation Fund

The Chemistry Innovation Fund aims to promote cooperation and transfer of knowledge between knowledge institutions and businesses. The fund hopes to encourage companies and knowledge institutions to be the best they can and to generate innovation. To this end, the fund finances research projects for fundamental research, and has earmarked around 11 million Euro for the 2016-2017 period. Professors Boons and Braakman have been awarded LIFT (Launchpad for Innovative Technology) project grants, while Prof. Weckhuysen has been honoured with a TA (Technology Area) programme grant.

Towards improved child nutrition

Prof. Geert-Jan Boons (UU) and Dr. Vassilis Triantis (Friesland Campina Nederland BV)

Breast milk contains high concentrations of complex carbohydrates, which have useful properties such as protection against pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The structures of these complex carbohydrates are extremely diverse, and it is not yet clear which vital biological characteristics are related to which compounds. In order to gain insight into this issue, the researchers will develop methods for creating, analysing and testing functions of large collections of complex carbohydrates. It is the expectation that the knowledge gained from this project will facilitate the improvement of child nutrition in the future.

Mechanisms of new medication against cystic fibrosis

Prof. Ineke Braakman (UU) and Dr. Katja Conrath (Galapagos), Dr. Vincent Gulmans (Netherlands Cystic Fibrosis Foundation)

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is an incurable genetic disease caused by a defect in the CFTR protein. In CF patients, this disrupts the salt-water transport system in many organs, causing the body to create thick and sticky mucus. Galapagos is developing new medications that target the CFTR protein; a combination of three medicines will likely be needed to repair the defect. In many CF patients, the CFTR variant and the type of CF disease it causes have not been characterized. This project will study the production and workings of the disease-causing CFTR variants and examine how Galapagos’ new clinical candidate compounds can have the most effect. This eventually will help provide the best possible combination of medications for people with CF.

Following catalysts in real-time

Dr. Irene Groot (UL) and Prof. Bert Weckhuysen (UU), Dr. Alexander van Bavel (Shell Global Solutions International BV), Dr. Gertjan van Baarle (Leiden Probe Microscopy), Dr. Joachim Loos (DSM Resolve)

Producing fuels from raw materials, such as natural gas, petroleum or biomass, is a complex chemical process that is conducted with the help of catalytic solids. The consortium will develop new scanning probe and spectroscopic techniques to study catalytic processes at the nano scale in real time, under realistic conditions often used in the chemical industry. For this purpose, they will also develop new model catalysts to study with new characterization techniques how these catalysts are able to produce more sustainable fuels.