Team science for groundbreaking fundamental research receives boost of 12.5 million euros

Sixteen research teams will set up innovative collaborations that contribute to innovation in science and healthcare for the longer term. Each team has received a maximum of 750,000 euros from the programme ZonMw Open Competition. The research groups will investigate, for example, the genetic factors of heart muscle diseases, better treatment of damage to the retina and the development of antibiotics against tuberculosis.

With a view to team science, the programme ZonMw Open Competition is specifically aimed at innovative and groundbreaking combinations of two or more research groups. The projects and the teams are assessed against criteria such as creativity, groundbreaking research of high quality, and the utilisation of knowledge via transmission and implementation through, among other approaches, the participation of stakeholders in the broadest sense of the word. The composition of the teams and the synergy between the different research partners was another important element in the assessment. ZonMw is increasingly using the narrative CV in funding rounds, and it was now used for the first time to assess research teams. In a manner appropriate to the research question and design of the research project, researchers and research groups are assessed for research, education, and a good balance between individual talent and team science, scientific leadership, and contributions to Open Science. This form of assessment is part of the new Recognition and Rewarding.

Besides budget for personnel and material costs, funding could also be requested for knowledge utilisation, internationalisation and research infrastructure. Three research groups received an extra investment module of at most 250,000 euros for medium-sized infrastructure.

These are the sixteen research teams who will set to work with innovative collaboration and groundbreaking research (in order of application number):

Linking mTOR to deregulated GABA signaling in developmental epilepsy
Prof. E.M.A. (Eleonora) Aronica – Amsterdam UMC-AMC
Dr D. (Dirk) Schubert – Radboudumc

Epilepsy is a common neurological disease, affecting approximately 180,000 people in the Netherlands. Treating childhood-onset genetic epilepsies is challenging. This project brings together researchers with expertise in epilepsy, neuropathology and neurophysiology to elucidate the mechanisms underlying altered neuronal network function in epilepsy, using human brain tissue and human cell models.

New energy for genetic cardiomyopathy
Prof. ir J.P.W.M. (Jeroen) Bakkers – Hubrecht Institute
Prof. F.W. (Folkert) Asselbergs and dr M. (Magdalena) Harakalova – University Medical Center Utrecht
Dr F.M. (Frédéric) Vaz – Amsterdam UMC

Cardiomyopathies are life threatening diseases that can be caused by genetic factors such as the PLN mutation. In this project it will be investigated how the PLN mutation affects the energy metabolism of the heart by using novel disease models. The results will help to develop new treatment strategies.

Disturbed protein complexes on cancer cells leads to reduced therapy response
Prof. A.B. (Annemiek) van Spriel – Radboudumc
Prof. P. (Piet) Gros – Utrecht University

Protein complexes on the cancer cell surface can facilitate growth. The researchers are investigating the structure and organisation of protein complexes on the cancer cell surface. This research may provide prospects to make cancer cells more sensitive to immunotherapies.

Ready for the new T: resident cells for tumorimmunity
Prof. T. (Thorbald) van Hall – Leiden University Medical Center
Dr K.P.J.M. (Klaas) van Gisbergen – Amsterdam UMC

Cancers consist of more than just derailed cells but are intermingled with normal cells of the body, including those of the immune system. Immunotherapy activates such immune cell and thereby control tumor growth. We here will investigate the role of a new lineage of cells: tissue-resident memory T cells.

Navigating uncertainty in gender incongruence and differences in sex development (DSD)
Dr C.M. (Chris) Verhaak and dr A.J.M. (Anke) Oerlemans – Radboudumc
Dr W.J.P. (Wyke) Stommel – Radboud University
Dr M.A. (Marij) Hillen – Amsterdam UMC-AMC
Dr A.L.C. (Annelou) de Vries – Amsterdam UMC-VUmc

Transgender and intersex children, their parents, and healthcare providers face substantial uncertainty. This covers medical, psychological, ethical and communicative aspects regarding treatment decisions and longterm development of the conditions. This project aims to understand uncertainty and support children, parents and healthcare professionals in recognizing, discussing and coping with uncertainty.

Cornea regeneration instructed by molecular cell identity characterization
Dr H. (Jo Huiqing) Zhou – Radboud University
Dr M. (Mor) Dickman and dr V.L.S. (Vanessa) LaPointe – Maastricht University

The current treatment for cornea damage depends on stem cells in the patient's own healthy eye. No
treatment is available for patients with two injured eyes. Scientists will develop a novel regenerative
technology to convert patient's skin and mouth cells into cornea stem cells to restore vision.

Peeping through the cell wall of the tubercle bacillus
Prof. W. (Wilbert) Bitter – Amsterdam UMC-VUmc
Prof. Dr D.J. (Dirk) Slotboom – University of  Groningen

The tubercle bacillus is remarkably resistant to antibiotics due to its fortified cell wall. Now, we will unravel how this cell wall works in keeping up defenses while allowing transport of essential nutrients. We will use this knowledge to device new antibiotics.    

In search for the origin of our autonomic nervous system
Prof. A. (Andries) Kalsbeek – Amsterdam UMC
Prof. O.C. (Onno) Meijer – Leiden University Medical Center
Dr C.X. (Chun-Xia) Yi – Amsterdam UMC
Dr A. (Ahmed) Mahfouz – Leiden University Medical Center
Prof. E. (Eric) Fliers – Amsterdam UMC

The hypothalamus is a small brain area that controls all of our physiology via hormones and autonomic nervous system. Its neuro-endocrine neurons have been well-characterized since a long time. With the newest microscopes and molecular techniques researchers will now trace and characterize the neurons that control our autonomic nervous system.

Family matters: genes and behavior as the biological basis for a long and healthy life
Prof. P.E. (Eline) Slagboom – Leiden University Medical Center
Prof. D.I. (Dorret) Boomsma – Free University Amsterdam
Prof. W.M.M. (Monique) Verschuren – RIVM
Dr M. (Marian) Beekman – Leiden University Medical Center

The life expectancy raises globally but the increase in healthy lifespan is lagging behind. Longevity families traced in Dutch databases often display disease-free survival into exceptional ages. In this project, we will disentangle the social, behavioral and genetic mechanisms that protect against age-related disease and promote a healthy life span.

Targeting the Mesenchymal Cancer Cell Phenotype for Therapeutic Gain
Prof. ir. P. (Peter) ten Dijke – Leiden University Medical Center
Dr P.E. (Pouyan) Boukany – TU Delft
Prof. J.W.M. (John) Martens and prof. S. (Stefan) Sleijfer – Erasmus MC Cancer Institute

Most cancer patients die from malignant metastases, or because the patients have become insensitive to chemotherapy. In this project, we aim to identify and repurpose existing drugs to selectively change the behaviour of aggressive cancer cells into non-invasive and therapy sensitive cancer cells or benign fat cells.

Out in the cold!
Prof. P. (Patrick) Schrauwen – Maastricht University
Dr E. (Eric) Kalkhoven – UMC Utrecht
Dr J. (Joris) Hoeks – Maastricht University
Prof. S. (Sander) Kersten – Wageningen University and  Research Center

In type 2 diabetes, tissues such as skeletal muscle take up less glucose, leading to elevated glucose levels in the blood. This research explores if cold-induced shivering, a type of muscle contraction that heavily relies on glucose for fuel, can stimulate glucose uptake and improve glucose control in diabetes patients.

Dynamic symptoms networks - a novel paradigm to improve diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of multimorbidity
Prof. M.G.M. (Marcel) Olde Rikkert and Dr G.M.E.E. (Geeske) Peeters – Radboudumc
Prof. T.M. (Thomas) Gill – Yale School of Medicine
Prof. C.L.H. (Claudi) Bockting and dr R. (Rick) Quax – University of Amsterdam

The researchers aim to develop a novel theory to improve diagnosis and treatment of older people with complex health problems. Symptoms of diseases overlap and influence each other. The insights gained through this theory can inform doctors about the optimal strategy to treat patients with multiple concurrent diseases.

Recovery of the cell's energy factories for tissue repair in COPD: muscles to the rescue
Prof. I.H. (Irene) Heijink – UMC Groningen
Dr R.C.J. (Ramon) Langen and dr H.R. (Harry) Gosker – Maastricht University
Prof. E.M.J. (Sabeth) Verpoorte – University of Groningen

COPD is a severe disease characterized by lung and often also muscle damage. We will investigate a
novel concept where aberrant interaction between lung and muscle leads to defects in the cell’s energy factories and impaired tissue repair. By restoring these defects, we aim to improve lung and muscle function.

Autism exposed
Dr R.A. (Raymond) Poot – Erasmus MC
Prof. B. (Bas) Van Steensel – Nederlands Kanker Instituut
Dr H.H.H. (Hieab) Adams – Erasmus MC

The risk to develop a mental disorder such as autism or schizophrenia is determined by your DNA. The researchers apply a new method towards reading in the DNA whether somebody is susceptible and to better understand what goes wrong in the brain development of patients.

Beta cell stress and the exocrine pancreas: A cause/ consequence relationship?
Dr B.N.G.G. (Ben) Giepmans – UMC Groningen
Dr E.C.M.C. (Elizabeth) Carroll – TU Delft
Dr A. (Arnaud) Zaldumbide – Leiden University Medical Center

Evidence that the complete pancreas is affected in Type 1 diabetes is emerging. In zebrafish larvae the scientist microscopically study a cause-consequence relationship to understand whether the insulinproducing cells will be stressed by their neighbors involved in food processing, which may be a long-sought trigger for Type 1 diabetes.

The bicarbonate umbrella – a multiorgan protective mechanism in humans.
Prof. U.H.W. (Ulrich) Beuers – Amsterdam UMC
Prof. A.J. (Ton) Rabelink – Leiden University Medical Center

Patients with cholestatic and genetic liver diseases suffer from consequences of worsening liver function, but also liver-independent complaints. We identified bicarbonate secretion as protective mechanism for liver and bile ducts. We aim to characterize and manipulate the 'bicarbonate umbrella' in liver, bile ducts and other organs in a multidisciplinary approach.

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