18 March 2019

ZonMw Young Investigator Award for Heleen van der Veen

Heleen van der Veen, third-year student at the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was presented with a ZonMW Young Investigator Award at the symposium of the Netherlands Society of Gene and Cell Therapy. She presented the winning research proposal together with Alexandra Mowday, postdoc at the University of Maastricht. Heleen and Alexandra both received a cash prize of € 2,500.

Heleen explains: “We can use the money to attend an international conference together, and we will soon begin work on the research proposal. Right now, I’m working on encasing CRISPR/Cas9 in liposomes. Alexandra has put together a 3D model to study the penetration of anaerobic bacteria in tumours. Now we plan on combining our work, and we want to test our liposomes using her 3D cell model to see if they can reach the cells that lie deeper in the sample.”

The two met at the spring symposium hosted by the NVGCT, during a ‘speed dating’ session organised to bring together young researchers with out-of-the-box ideas. Three couples then had an opportunity to pitch their research plans the following morning. The jury found Heleen and Alexandra’s proposal to be both original and feasible. The winning duo gave a clear presentation, and they were the only researchers who had also prepared a back-up plan. Jury member Prof. Len Seymour (University of Oxford) said: “The 5 min pitches were very impressive in how they showed important new ideas could be produced by collaborative and multidisciplinary thinking.”

Prof Enrico Mastrobattista is Heleen’s proud internship supervisor, and he is very pleased with the award: “At the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, students are trained to work together with researchers from a variety of disciplines, and to present their research clearly to a general audience. It’s wonderful to see what a great result that training can have.”

ZonMw stands for innovation: we enable others to develop new (scientific) knowledge. And we do everything we can to ensure that this new knowledge is used in policy and health care practice.

Heleen van der Veen