ZonMw tijdlijn FAIR data and data management https://www.zonmw.nl/ Het laatste nieuws van de tijdlijn van FAIR data and data management en-gb Sun, 02 Oct 2022 11:48:14 +0200 Sun, 02 Oct 2022 11:48:14 +0200 TYPO3 news-9014 Thu, 29 Sep 2022 10:57:00 +0200 Microplastics may have subtle effects on the placenta https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/microplastics-may-have-subtle-effects-on-the-placenta/ Tiny plastic particles may have subtle effects on the placenta, according to results recently published by researcher Hanna Dusza and her team in the leading journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The researchers call for additional studies to gain a better understanding of the effect of micro- and nanoplastics on the health of the mother and the developing child. Health effects of microplastics still unclear

Previous research has found microplastics in the placentas of pregnant women. But what effect do these tiny plastic particles, with dimensions in the micron and nanometre range, have on the health of the mother and the foetus? A research team from Utrecht University, Dijklander Hospital, Vrije Universiteit, Deltares and Mount Sinai School of Medicine (US) performed a study in a laboratory setting of the uptake and transport of micro- and nanoplastics in placenta cells cultivated outside the body, and the effects on those cells. The researchers observed subtle changes in the expression of genes that are responsible for hormone production and metabolism. The proposal of research is  avaliable in English (choose 'Samenvatting van de aanvraag' under 'Verslagen' on the webpage). Read the Utrecht University press release on the effect of exposure to microplastics from the beginning of human life, and the publication in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Is more knowledge needed about effect of microplastics in placenta?

ZonMw is promoting and funding research into microplastics and health because, as the amount of micro- and nanoplastics in the environment steadily increases, we know little about the potential health risks. Knowledge of the risks posed by microplastics is needed to allow us to prevent damage to health. ZonMw therefore launched its Microplastics and Health programme in 2018. Visit our website to read more about the first 15 completed projects, including the placenta study. You can also read about studies on microplastics in human blood and other research results.

Links to other research

“Research on microplastics and health is like a jigsaw, and this study is an important piece of the puzzle”, explains senior programme manager Frank Pierik of ZonMw. “The knowledge agenda  which we drew up in 2020 indicates the remaining pieces of the puzzle that need to be found. There is a long way to go: besides the 15 breakthrough projects, and the follow-up by the MOMENTUM consortium, we will need to add more pieces to the puzzle to find appropriate solutions.”



news-8991 Wed, 21 Sep 2022 11:09:12 +0200 Ninety per cent of NWO and ZonMw’s research publications are open access https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/ninety-per-cent-of-nwo-and-zonmws-research-publications-are-open-access/ At least 9 out of 10 publications in 2021 resulting from research funded by NWO and ZonMw are available as open access. For NWO, this means an increase of 5% compared to last year. For ZonMw-funded research, the increase is 8%. This is according to the Open Access Monitor conducted by CWTS (Centre for Science and Technology Studies) on behalf of NWO (and ZonMw). The aim is 100%

Both research funders believe that publicly funded research results should be directly and freely accessible. That is why they have been working on their open access policy for the research they fund since 2009. In 2015, they introduced a funding condition requiring publications resulting from research funded by NWO. For ZonMw-funded research, this has applied since 2013. In 2021, both funders have aligned their requirements with Plan S and cOAlition S, a consortium of more than 25 international research funders that aim to accelerate the full transition to immediate open access. Considerable progress has been made, but there is still room for improvement.

Caroline Visser, responsible for Open Science on NWO’s Executive Board: ‘Clearly, we have made great progress since our open access policy was first launched in 2009. Open access has actually become the standard. Ninety per cent is a particularly impressive score, even in an international context. Of course, our goal remains 100%, and we will continue to do what we can to accelerate the transition to the free and open availability of all scientific research.’

Arfan Ikram, chair of ZonMw: ‘These are great numbers. To reach 100%, we will also continue to work at ZonMw in collaboration with relevant parties to make the transition to open access publishing of scientific output. We will facilitate researchers wherever possible to use different open access routes.’

Main conclusions from the analysis by CWTS

•    By 2021, 90% of publications resulting from NWO funding (n=7843) were available as open access, either via the gold route (on the publisher’s platform) or the green route (deposited in a repository). This represents an increase of 5% compared to 2020. For ZonMw (n=1559), it was 91%, an increase of 8% compared to last year.

•    The number of publications in hybrid journals increased considerably in recent years, due to the open access deals universities have negotiated with publishers. The share of publications in full-gold journals also increased dramatically.

•    This edition of the Monitor determined for the first time the share of diamond open access. The international interest in this model has increased greatly in recent years, partly in response to the Diamond OA Journals Study conducted by Science Europe and cOAlition S and the Diamond OA Action Plan. With 2.5% of articles published under the diamond model, the share is still small, but it is promising nonetheless because it is considered a more equitable model as neither authors nor readers face costs.

•    Between scientific domains, there are no major differences in the overall score. The same is true for universities. Leiden University and the University of Groningen score the highest with 94% open access, which can presumably be attributed to these institutions’ progressive use of the Taverne amendment.

•    For the first time, a random examination of the 10% ‘closed’ publications was made as well. These are often publications in which the researcher funded by NWO or ZonMw is the ‘umpteenth’ co-author of an article, whose lead author has an affiliation with a university abroad. This researcher may therefore not always be able to influence the choice to publish open access. These articles should still be made open access under NWO and ZonMw policies, and the report also shows that the vast majority of authors comply with that and share their papers via the institutional repository – albeit sometimes with delays enforced by embargoes. The Rights Retention Strategy developed by cOAlition S can support researchers in immediately sharing these publications via open access.

•    The data underlying the reporting are – to the degree possible – openly available.

Open science as the norm

NWO and ZonMw are strongly committed to to lead the transition to Open Science. Publications resulting from funding by both agencies must be made openly available. . Open Science increases the impact of scientific research. But it also increases the quality and reliability and thus enhances the trust and support for science.

More information

news-8982 Tue, 20 Sep 2022 10:50:00 +0200 KIC call launched: Safe and healthy food and food systems https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/kic-call-launched-safe-and-healthy-food-and-food-systems/ In recent years, attention for the role of nutrition in relation to (preventive) human health has increased. This is because healthy food and a healthy lifestyle are said to ensure a longer healthy life and can thus extend the healthy life span. Knowledge about food and food systems is necessary

Societal challenges, such as the growing and ageing world population, more chronically ill people, and the growing differences in health between people with different socio-economic positions, make the pursuit of a healthy diet and lifestyle for the current and future population even more important. Moreover, a transition to a sustainable food system is needed. It is therefore necessary to broaden the knowledge of healthy food and food systems.  

Purpose of the call

This call encourages interdisciplinary research into sustainable and innovative food systems that produce healthy and safe food for the current and future population. This research requires an integrated approach to multiple focus areas, in order to achieve a more holistic understanding of healthy and safe food and food systems. This call focuses on 4 areas:

  • Nutrition and health in different population groups
  • Influence of environment on healthy choice behaviour
  • Development of sustainable and healthy food products
  • Food safety, environment and health

When to apply

The deadline for submitting pre-proposals is January 17, 2023. The deadline for submitting full proposals is June 15, 2023.  The maximum duration of the proposed project is 6 years.


On 1 November 2022 NWO will facilitate a matchmaking activity for this call in Utrecht. Participation in this activity is recommended but not mandatory. Matchmaking in the KIC 2020-2023 aims to bring together and connect researchers from different scientific disciplines (alpha, beta, gamma; including universities of applied sciences) and practical organisations in order to develop interdisciplinary research proposals. Further information and the possibility to register for this meeting can be found on this page.  

KIC seeks technological economic opportunities

The NWO research programme KIC focuses on groundbreaking innovative solutions with societal and economic impact. Companies, knowledge institutions and government bodies jointly invest in the commercial application of knowledge to tackle major societal challenges through the use of smart technologies. By doing this, both jobs and income can be secured for the future. This is established in the Knowledge and Innovation Covenant (KIC) 2020-2023 that connects with the Mission-driven Top Sectors and Innovation Policy of the Dutch government. NWO brings together companies and knowledge institutions and funds groundbreaking research based on their innovative, high-impact research proposals.

Within the main line Mission, NWO annually develops several large thematic programmes, which each have a budget of between 5 and 11 million euros: the mission-driven programmes. The choice of subject is determined on the basis of a ranking within the Knowledge and Innovation Agendas. Researchers submit proposals for collaborative projects with a budget of between 750,000 and 4 million euros per proposal.

More information can be found on the website of NWO: Call for proposals: KIC Safe and healthy food and food systems

ZonMw’s role

This research programme connects very well with research that ZonMw programmes and funds within the realm of food, nutrition and health, especially internationally. Please refer to our Dutch website to find out about the specific research we support on the interrelation between food, nutrition, health and the prevention of chronic diseases.  

The Dutch version of the news item is available.



news-8904 Thu, 25 Aug 2022 12:00:00 +0200 Three consortia awarded funding for acceptance and implementation of animal-free models in safety assessment https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/three-consortia-awarded-funding-for-acceptance-and-implementation-of-animal-free-models-in-safety-as/ Within the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA) 'Non-animal models: acceptance and implementation', three consortia will research on the acceptance and implementation of existing animal-free models. A total of about € 2.9mln has been awarded for this research. This programme is a collaboration between the Dutch Ministries of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W), Public Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS), Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK), Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), Defense (Def), ZonMw and NWO. This programme focuses on the acceptance and implementation of existing animal-free models

This programme focuses on the acceptance and implementation of existing animal-free models in the safety assessment of substances for humans with associated legislation and regulations. People are exposed to numerous chemical substances on a daily basis, such as those found in medicines and the environment. In order to protect them against the possible dangers of these substances, a decent safety assessment is necessary. To date, laboratory animals are often used for this purpose. However, this use of laboratory animals is increasingly being criticised, both from a societal and scientific point of view. Think of animal welfare and the translatability of results from animals to people.

To stimulate the animal-free transition in scientific research, this NWA programme focuses on the acceptance and implementation of animal-free models at a regulatory, scientific and societal basis. In this way, we will achieve even more relevant research results for humans without the use of animals

ZonMw is realising this programme in collaboration with NWO.

Three multidisciplinary consortia will contribute to the animal-free transition

In the coming five year, three multidisciplinary consortia will contribute to the animal-free transition. The projects focus on the underlying causes of societal barriers, the acceptance of existing animal-free models by end-users and regulators, and the values of stakeholders and institutions on data from animal-free models. A budget of €955,000 has been set aside for each project.

The projects awarded funding, in alphabetical order, are:

Accelerating the transition to animal-free NGRA: A transformative governance approach
Projectleader: Prof. Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers (Radboud University)
Consortium: Radboud University, Utrecht University, TNO, TenWise, Johns Hopkins University, The Good Lobby, Prof. Howard White (consultant), Unilever, Eurogroup for Animals and PETA UK.
This research project analyzes how the acceleration of the transition to animal-free safety assessment can be governed. The project focuses on Next Generation Risk Assessment (NGRA), and on the transitions to animal-free safety assessment for chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the EU, the Netherlands, and the USA. The transdisciplinary consortium experiments with transformative governance approaches through action research.

Animal-free assays for endocrine disruption – from science to regulatory acceptance
Projectleader: Prof. Juliette Legler (Utrecht University)
Consortium: Utrecht University, RIVM, Charles River, KWR, Proefdiervrij, Maastricht University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Brunel University London, INSERM Montpellier, INSERM Rennes, University of California Irvine, University Miguel Hernandez, PEPPER, OECD, Biopredic, Plastics Europe, Cosmetics Europe and UK Health Safety Agency.
It is not always possible to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which are harmful to our health. A combination of non-animal models, which jointly measure the effect of substances on hormonal systems in humans, could replace the use of animal testing. Before a model is accepted in regulation, it has to be determined whether it is predictable and reproducible. For this purpose, it must pass through a number of steps that make up the pathways to regulatory acceptance. This project will determine how regulatory acceptance and use of non-animal models for EDCs can be improved.

Valuing Testing: Valuing animal free testing in chemical safety assessments
Projectleader: Dr. Hans Bouwmeester (Wageningen University & Research)
Consortium: Wageningen University & Research, University of Groningen, Rathenau Institute, Shell, Unilever, Dutch Organ-on-Chip consortium and Medicines Evaluation Board of the Netherlands.
Animal-studies remain to be the gold standard to study human safety of chemicals. Several animal-free models have been developed, but more needs to be done to transition to only using animal-free models for these chemical safety studies. In this project we will study the ethical values of stakeholders and institutions and start a citizens dialogue to explore current barriers. We will compare simple cell models and complex models that resemble the liver to explore if these models can be incorporated in safety assessment procedures. Study designs will be discussed with stakeholders to optimize the likely of acceptance of data.

More information

news-8841 Mon, 25 Jul 2022 10:50:00 +0200 Fifteen talented, young scientists go to foreign institutions with Rubicon grant https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/fifteen-talented-young-scientists-go-to-foreign-institutions-with-rubicon-grant/ Fifteen researchers who have recently received their PhDs can do their research at foreign research institutes thanks to a Rubicon grant from NWO. The Rubicon programme gives young, highly promising researchers the opportunity to gain international research experience. So what are some of the research questions that these 15 researchers will try to answer? In a multidisciplinary team of chemists and engineers, one of the young scientists will investigate whether new gels can be developed that convert carbon dioxide into fuels with the help of electricity. Another study will focus on what makes young people vulnerable to radicalised conspiracy beliefs. And for yet another project, the Rubicon grant will be used to unravel the unknown origins of fast radio bursts from space this.

Research at a foreign institute

For many researchers, experience abroad is an important step in their career. Thanks to the Rubicon grant these young researchers can do their research at a foreign institute that offers the best environment for their research.  

More information


news-8830 Wed, 20 Jul 2022 09:05:00 +0200 Mosaic 2.0 grant for 13 PhD students https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/mosaic-20-grant-for-13-phd-students/ Thirteen PhD students will start with a Mosaic 2.0 grant for their PhD research. The PhD scholarship programme aims to promote the further development of an inclusive work environment within Dutch universities and is open for the group of graduates with a migration background from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Turkey, who are underrepresented in the Netherlands. The studies cover the entire breadth of science: from timely treatment of asymptomatic heart failure to community care for refugee women who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence.

These are the 8 project that will contribute to medical research and health care innovations:

The involvement of a new B-blood cell in multiple sclerosis
Tom Halperin Msc, Dept. of Anatomy & Neurosciences, Amsterdam UMC, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Multiple sclerosis is a severe, neurological disorder affecting young adults and causing cognitive and motoric disability. The cause of the disease is, despite extensive research, still unknown. The researchers will use human tissue from brain and blood donors to investigate how a newly discovered group of immune cells (B1- cells) contribute to the disease progression. In addition, they will use modern biomedical and high-resolution microscopy techniques to characterize these cells inside the brain. Ultimately, the researchers hope to identify new treatment targets for MS.

Care for peer support: organizing community care for refugee women with experiences of sexual and gender based violence
Zahra Khazai MSc, Amsterdam UMC-Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Worldwide the number of refugees is increasing. Refugee women are at continuous risk for experiencing sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), and SGBV has enormous consequences for their health, integration and participation. Refugee women experience barriers in accessing formal care and simultaneously, their social networks are limited. Peer support groups are an accessible way for support and discussing SGBV. Although community care organizations know how to reach these women, barriers exist for structural implementation of peer support groups. In this project, the accessibility of peer support groups for these women and their implementation in care chains will be explored.

Timely recovery after subclinical heart failure (TREASURE)
Zenab Mohseni-Alsalhi MSc, Maastricht University Medical Center+ (MUMC+)
The women specific risk factor preeclampsia (PE) relates to a 2-7 fold increased risk of cardiovascular diseases at a relatively young age. During PE, there is an unfavorable increase in heart muscle mass leading to less compliant heart, a condition preceding clinical heart failure. In almost half of affected women, this impairment does not resolve after delivery. The blood pressure hormone angiotensin plays a central role in the development of this form of heart failure. The TREASURE trail aims to investigate whether asymptomatic HF in formerly preeclamptic women can be reversed by Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors treatment.

Hitting the mark: Introducing Artificial Intelligence and state-of-the-art MRI techniques for Precision Radiotherapy of Glioblastoma
Patrick Tang MSc , Erasmus MC, Rotterdam
Glioblastomas (a highly malignant brain tumor) are notorious for their tumor infiltration, where tumor extends into adjacent normal-appearing brain tissue. As tumor infiltration is not visible on conventional MRI-scans, a safety margin of 1.5-cm is always added to the visible tumor when the target area for radiotherapy is defined. In this research, the aim is to eliminate this one-size-fits-all approach and assess the potential of artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art MRI techniques to more accurately define the target area for each individual patient. By only targeting what needs to be targeted, the development of side-effects caused by radiotherapy could be reduced.

Mind the Body: Investigating and targeting cognitive and affective disturbances in youth social anxiety.
Ruya Akdag MSc, Institute Developmental and Educational Psychology, Leiden University
Adolescents with social anxiety avoid social situations and are often rejected by their peers, resulting in loneliness, low well-being, and low quality of life. To prevent this, the current project investigates whether social anxiety is influenced by cognitive and affective disturbances and whether the regulation of both disturbances via accessible digital interventions can help adolescents learn to cope with their social anxiety.

What is needed for good care around sexuality and reproduction of girls and women in the refugee camp of Mavrovouni on Lesbos?
Dr Jamilah Sherally, Athena Institute Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Girls and women in refugee camps are at high risk of sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy and poor
reproductive and pregnancy care. To find out what is needed to enable good care in the Mavrovouni camp on Lesbos, experiences and opinions of all stakeholders are researched: (1) health problems, needs, experiences and barriers to care among refugees, using a household survey, group interviews and innovative participatory techniques, and (2) experiences and possibilities of care providers through systematic evaluation of facilities and interviews with service providers and stakeholders involved in care organization. Together with all stakeholders, recommendations for improvement are co-created.

Under our skin: the role of somatosensory strategies in optimizing stress regulation at the onset of adolescence
Mercedes Beltrán MSc, Utrecht University
In a world where youth stress levels are rising this project asks an urgent question: How can we help
children and young adolescents cope with stress? This research aims to investigate how certain behaviors (such as self-touch, biting your lips, constant movement or fidgeting) can help to reduce stress and how we can use this knowledge to promote optimal stress regulation in children.

Livebearing fish shed light on the mystery of placental tolerance
Dr Marwa Ahmed, Wageningen University and Research
The tolerance of the immune system to a fetus is puzzling for scientists. The fetus is closely connected to the mother through the placenta and presents itself as part of the father's foreign material to the mother's immune system. An immune response and rejection of the partly foreign body fetus would be expected, but this does not happen during a healthy pregnancy. In this study we want to investigate how this tolerance was created by the immune system during evolution. We investigate this by comparing fish species with and without placenta from the livebearing fish family Poeciliidae.

More information

news-8818 Thu, 14 Jul 2022 10:19:00 +0200 NWO and ZonMw will award over 60 million euros in additional funding to non-programmed research https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/nwo-and-zonmw-will-award-over-60-million-euros-in-additional-funding-to-non-programmed-research/ The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, will make an additional 65.4 million euros available to NWO and ZonMw for the various Open Competitions for non-programmed research. Almost the entire extra budget will be awarded in 2022, in line with the wishes of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Robbert Dijkgraaf. With effect from 2023, an additional 60 million euros of funding will be made structurally available for the Open Competitions of the domains Science, Social Science and Humanities, Applied and Engineering Sciences and Health Research and Development (ZonMw).

In the coming months, ZonMw will work out how these extra resources will be made available in the current and upcoming rounds of the ZonMw Open Competition and Off Road. We will publish details about this on our program pages on our website.

Read more about the extra resources on the NWO website.

news-8794 Thu, 07 Jul 2022 08:49:29 +0200 Science works! https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/science-works/ Submitting an application to NWO has become easier and less of a burden on researchers. The time it takes to process application procedures has to decrease. And the success rates in the open competition and the talent programme must be at least 25 percent. These are 3 of the 38 ambitions from NWO’s new strategic plan 2023–2026. The new NWO strategy ‘Science works!’ was presented today to Robbert Dijkgraaf, Minister of Education, Culture and Science. ‘NWO has a responsibility to help make science work. The new strategy contains four building blocks that are crucial for a well-functioning system and corresponding ambitions that NWO will work towards in the coming years’, says Marcel Levi, President of NWO’s Executive Board.

‘The Netherlands is doing very well, but we will have to keep working on a science system that optimally facilitates innovation and knowledge development. This also includes focusing on the safety of knowledge and scientists’, Marcel Levi explains about the new strategy. ‘We also want to help reduce the workload for researchers so they can use their time more economically. So they have as much time as possible to do what they are good at: research. This is why a number of ambitions in the strategy aim to make things easier for them.’

More information

Source: NWO

news-8761 Fri, 01 Jul 2022 09:10:00 +0200 101 researchers receive NWO-Vidi grant worth 800,000 euros https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/101-researchers-receive-nwo-vidi-grant-worth-800000-euros/ The Dutch Research Council has awarded 101 experienced researchers, 17 of which fall under the ZonMw field of activity, a Vidi grant worth 800,000 euros. The grant enables them to develop their own innovative line of research and set up their own research group in the coming five years. With the grant the Vidi laureates will do research on a variety of subjects including how strongly does (long-during) smell loss, like we seen with COVID-19, the quality of our relationships and of our own life. The Vidi will also be used to research the pluses and minuses of cannabis for the brain. Another research will focus on how positive interactions between plants can constrain climate change.

NWO Talent Programme

Vidi is aimed at experienced researchers who have carried out successful research for a number of years after obtaining their PhDs. Together with Veni and Vici, Vidi is part of the NWO Talent Programme. Researchers in the Talent Programme are free to submit their own subject for funding. NWO thus encourages curiosity-driven and innovative research. NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative character of the research, the expected scientific impact of the research proposal and the possibilities for knowledge use.

More information

news-8755 Tue, 28 Jun 2022 11:33:56 +0200 Slight change of course on the horizon for NWO Talent Scheme https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/slight-change-of-course-on-the-horizon-for-nwo-talent-scheme/ A slight change of course is on the horizon for NWO’s Talent Scheme (Veni, Vidi, Vici). Consultation with the research field has provided NWO with answers that it will use to amend the scheme. For example, the Executive Board recently decided to change the programme’s aim. In addition, a two-stage assessment will be introduced throughout the entire Talent Program starting in Round 2023. The Talent Scheme was due for a review because much has changed in the research field in the past 20 years. Think of the emergence of the ERC, a substantially heavier workload at universities and new insights on how to recognise and reward talented academics differently.

The aim of NWO’s Veni-Vidi-Vici Talent Scheme will be amended as follows: ‘The aim of the NWO Talent Scheme is to provide creative opportunities for adventurous, talented, pioneering researchers to do research of their choice, establish their own line of research and further develop their talent.’

The two-stage assessment is a tiered assessment where the first selection stage takes place on the basis of the narrative CV and the second stage on the basis of the research proposal. The introduction of this assessment in all rounds in 2023 will harmonise the different funding instruments. As a result, researchers will have as many of the same preconditions as possible, regardless of their research domain. The introduction of the mandatory pre-proposal saves both applicants and evaluators a great deal of time. This method also helps to limit the application pressure and reduce the workload of researchers and evaluators. Incidentally, NWO is working on a new version of the narrative CV, the ‘evidence-based CV’, which is currently being further developed and tested.

The revised aim also includes reflecting on the profile of the target groups for this new objective. NWO will further investigate and establish the scope of these groups in the coming six months. It will do this carefully and in consultation with researchers, administrators of knowledge institutions where they work and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the commissioning party of the scheme.

NWO is aware of the potential impact that changes in its Talent Scheme may have on the career paths of researchers. We will therefore communicate about this in a timely manner through various channels. Where necessary, a suitable transitional arrangement will be put in place.

Source: NWO

news-8664 Thu, 02 Jun 2022 11:20:00 +0200 From sustainable food production to reducing viral transmission https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/from-sustainable-food-production-to-reducing-viral-transmission/ Fewer CO2 emissions, less airborne viral transmission, and a more sustainable form of food production: seven consortia of researchers, companies, societal organisations and government bodies will put a budget of 32 million euros towards developing technological innovations for these and other societal challenges. Curious about these innovations? Read more on the NWO website.

Some of the honored projects:

Early prediction of treatment efficacy

MAESTRO: Metabolic Imaging to Improve Patient-Specific Therapy Outcome
Complications related to cancer and obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, have an enormous and still increasing impact on our society and economy. Preventive measures and treatment for these diseases are not always effective. This usually only becomes clear after the patient has received treatment for a longer period of time. The MAESTRO project will develop new, non-invasive, radiation-free imaging technology to improve the patient’s prognosis, quality of life and participation in society and to reduce healthcare costs. This technology will be able to predict early on how effective a lifestyle intervention or treatment will be for a specific patient. The project research will focus on breast cancer, liver metastasis and the preliminary phase of diabetes.

Programme leader: Dr Jeanine Prompers (University Medical Center Utrecht)
Participating knowledge institutions: Amsterdam University Medical Center, Maastricht University Medical Center+, Utrecht University Medical Center
Companies: Advanced MR Analytics AB (AMRA), Boston Scientific, Cambridge Isotope Laboratories (CIL), MedVision360 (MEDrecord), MSD, Philips, Scannexus, Servier, WaveTronica
Other societal partners: Diabetes Vereniging Nederland (DVN), European Coalition for People living with Obesity (ECPO), Patient panel Oncology Center Maastricht University Medical Center+, Stichting Darmkanker, Stichting voor Patiënten met maag- en slokdarmkanker (SPKS)

Preventing airborne transmissions of viruses

MItigation STrategies for Airborne Infection Control (MIST)
Since the global impact of COVID-19, we are acutely aware of the risk of diseases dispersed through the air. Virologists, epidemiologists, fluid mechanics and engineers will join forces in the MIST programme to better understand and prevent airborne viral transmission. Under various conditions, the researchers will study the infectiousness of viruses, the spread of fluid droplets in the air, and the influence of ventilation and the purification of air on the transfer of viruses. They will subsequently translate this knowledge into practical recommendations about which measures can be deployed in the most efficient, cost-effective and sustainable manner in various environments ranging from people at home to hospitals, schools and trains.

Programme leader: Prof. Detlef Lohse (University of Twente)
Participating knowledge institutions: Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology, MARIN, Radboud university medical center, Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre, TNO, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Amsterdam, University of Twente
Companies: Arcadis, BAM, Carrier, Euromate, Greensol, Hiensch Engineering, Heinen & Hopman, I-Vention Medspray, Novaerus, Philips, PlasmaMade, Signify, Virobuster
Other societal partners: ArtiZ, CCN, KHN, KNHB, KNLTB, NS, PO-raad, REHVA, Rijksvastgoedbedrijf, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Sportinnovator, TVVL, VLR, VO-raad

Fighting arthritis

In the Netherlands, more than 1.5 million people suffer from arthritis – a rheumatic condition of the joints that causes pain, stiffness and difficulty in moving. As arthritis is a condition that mainly occurs among older people, the number of patients is set to increase due to the ageing of Dutch society. At present, there is no adequate treatment for arthritis. The OAinject programme will develop new diagnostic tools that will determine which form of arthritis a person has so that individualised treatments can be offered. The researchers will also work on innovative ways of gradually administering drugs locally over a longer period of time via an injectable drug depot in the joint. With this approach, the consortium will ensure that patients can retain an active lifestyle that helps to prevent other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and dementia.

Programme leader: Prof. Marcel Karperien (University of Twente)
Participating knowledge institutions: Delft University of Technology, Erasmus MC, Maastricht University, Maastricht University Medical Center, Radboud university medical center, University Medical Center Utrecht, University of Twente
Companies: Chondropeptix, DSM Biomedical, IBIS Technologies, InnoCore Pharmaceuticals, 20Med Therapeutics, Nordic Bioscience, Orthros Medical, Procore, QVQ, Ssens
Other societal partners: Deventer Hospital, ReumaNederland, Dutch Society for the Replacement of Animal Testing


news-8650 Tue, 24 May 2022 11:43:32 +0200 Baking pies as a metaphor for successful collaboration on antimicrobial resistance https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/baking-pies-as-a-metaphor-for-successful-collaboration-on-antimicrobial-resistance/ On Thursday April 28th 2022 a kick off meeting took place for the projects within the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR) 13th call named ‘HARISSA’. ZonMw took part in organising and hosting the day. During the workshop, each of the nineteen project coordinators or partners presented their project plan for the upcoming years. The presentations were spread over two sessions each lead by a chair. Approximately 45 participants were present during the virtual meeting.

Transmission and intervention

HARISSA is an acronym for ‘‘One Health intervention and Transmission in AMR’’ and is the 13th joint call within JPIAMR. The call mainly focused on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) transmission and interventions. A One Health perspective was required, as well as involving low and middle income countries.

Collaboration is the key to success

From the meeting it became clear that these types of partnerships are crucial to deliver on such complex projects, hence the value of this call and the consortia funded. A wide range of interventions were presented which focused on different topics, from testing and uptake of innovation to public health interventions, to preventing and managing AMR transmission. Besides cost effectiveness, the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration during the projects also became clear.

Lessons learned for the future

Recommendations were made for future funding calls. These included focusing on the need for international guidance and complimentary, as well as coordinated approaches for both in high and low and middle income countries. A wider picture should be considered as well; study interventions in the context of economic as well as health benefits. And lastly, cross project learnings would be important as the consortia are progressing. There even were some early attempts for collaboration between projects made in the meeting.

What is the similarity between pie and antimicrobial resistance?

Overall, the project participants were enthusiastic to hear about other projects and their plan. The process could be compared to baking a cake: the projects are now at the stage where all the ingredients go in and after a few years nineteen beautiful cakes come out of the oven. We very much look forward to the results of these interesting projects.


news-8643 Mon, 23 May 2022 09:11:00 +0200 2022 Veni round 2022 early June open for applications https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/2022-veni-round-2022-early-june-open-for-applications/ Talented, creative researchers who recently obtained their PhDs can soon apply for a Veni. This funding instrument from the NWO Talent Scheme offers researchers individual grants. The funding will enable them to develop their own research idea for the coming three years. The maximum funding amount is 280,000 euros. The 2022 Veni round has nine committees affiliated with the NWO domains. The Science (ENW), Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) and ZonMW domains each have their own committee. The Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) committee has been divided into six submission committees, one for the review panels for each discipline. All domains have introduced a compulsory pre-proposal phase for the 2022 Veni round; this year is the first time for the ENW domain. Applicants must submit an abridged proposal before the September 2022 deadline. The mandatory pre-proposal means that researchers do not have to write a complete (time-consuming) research proposal immediately.

The introduction of the mandatory pre-proposal saves applicants and reviewers a great deal of time. This approach will therefore help to reduce the application pressure and ease the workload of researchers and reviewers.

The call can now be viewed on the funding pages and is expected to open in early June.

Important dates

The Veni schedule for all domains is as follows:
•    Deadline (mandatory) pre-proposal Tuesday 6 September 2022
•    Deadline detailed applications Tuesday 24 January 2023
•    The decision about the 2022 Veni applications round will take place in June.

The 2022 Veni round is open to researchers who obtained their PhD no more than three years ago on 1 January 2022 (graduation date after 1 January 2019 and before 1 January 2022) and to researchers who obtained their PhD between 1 January 2022 and 6 September 2022. NWO is therefore keeping the target group for the Veni as similar as possible following the delays in the 2020 and 2021 rounds.

Obligatory pre-proposal

The mandatory pre-proposal means that researchers do not have to write a full application right away. The pre-proposal consists of submitting a narrative CV: a description of the applicant’s academic profile and a selection of the most relevant outputs (broader than only publications). This format makes it possible to highlight the special qualities of individual researchers. As a result of feedback from committee members and applicants, the instructions on how to use the narrative CV have been refined in the application form. NWO is working on a new version of the narrative CV, the ‘evidence-based CV’, which is currently being further developed and tested.
In addition to the CV, applicants must also submit a brief outline of their research idea. Based on feedback from committee members and applicants, it was decided to give more space to the research idea in this round. The research idea in the pre-proposal has been extended from 50 to 100 words to give applicants a better opportunity to demonstrate how the idea relates to the profile. The assessment criteria and their weighting remain the same.

NWO evaluates the pre-proposals and selects the final Veni target group: Veni funding is intended for researchers whose qualities clearly surpass those of their international peer group. They may then submit a detailed proposal, which is then assessed.

More information

news-8536 Wed, 20 Apr 2022 14:12:00 +0200 ‘Reflecting on science should become normal practice’ https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/reflecting-on-science-should-become-normal-practice/ The new Promoting Good Science (PGS) programme, which is the follow-up to the Fostering Responsible Research Practices (FRRP) programme, will be chaired by Sally Wyatt. PGS is aimed at encouraging sustainable improvements in the science system. Eduard Klasen is stepping down as former chair of FRRP, and he is confidently passing the baton on to his successor Sally, who wants to involve the broader science domain. You do not practice science just for yourself

Sally Wyatt is Professor of Digital Cultures at Maastricht University and a social scientist in the research fields science, technology and society. As a scientist, she investigates the impact of digitalisation on society and, in the past, also conducted research into open data in science.

‘Issues such as integrity and responsible innovation are important to me and of interest to my research’, says Sally. ‘After all, you do not practice science just for yourself, but for others as well.’ And with “others”, Sally not only refers to fellow scientists and students, but also to society. ‘I believe it is vital that scientists set a good example to both the next generation of scientists and to the general public.’ Her golden rule is: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

How ZonMw started to stimulate good science

Eduard Klasen was chair of the FRRP programme from 2016 to 2022. He is the former dean of Leiden University Medical Center and Emeritus Professor of Management of Health Research. ‘It all began in 2012’, recalls Eduard. ‘Back then, articles about the state of scientific research were published with great regularity.’ Issues that came to light in that period included publication pressure, a lack of interdisciplinary collaborations and insufficient attention for the societal impact of research. ‘ZonMw was of the view that research funding bodies should play a role in facilitating good science’, recounts Eduard. ‘However, at the time, there was absolutely nothing in this area, no funds and no plan.’

Under the leadership of Eduard, ZonMw initiated the project “System failures” in 2013 to find out more about the causes, consequences and solutions for system failures (problems in the research system). ‘We visited organisations, experts and deans and documented and learned an awful lot’, recalls Eduard.

Subsequently, the foundation was laid for the FRRP programme. ‘I set up a workgroup together with Lex Bouter, Professor of Research Integrity’, continues Eduard. In 2015, the workgroup reached the conclusion that although there are many theories about factors that influence the science system, very little research had been done into this. The science-wide FRRP programme was established on the basis of this finding. ‘Back then, it was unique but, fortunately, that is no longer the case’, says a satisfied Eduard. ‘Now we have more partners from which we can learn a great deal, such as the Research on Research Institute.

The time is ripe for a follow-up project

Since the start of the FRRP programme, a total of 17 projects and several large research initiatives have been funded. Furthermore, meetings and workshops have been organised. The FRRP projects give insight into what is going well and where improvements are needed to safeguard good science. Examples are improving the peer-review system, setting up training courses in universities of applied sciences about how to carry out responsible research, and encouraging a more balanced evaluation of researchers.

The programme has taken a first and necessary step toward the structural and systematic investigation of the science system. ‘The FRRP programme managed to create a good network’, states Eduard proudly. In addition to this, it has a clear added value with respect to current developments in science, such as Open Science and the new theme Recognition and Rewarding. ‘We took a broad approach and achieved a lot, but we need to step up our efforts even more’, concludes Eduard. ‘I think this presents a fine opportunity for the follow-up project.’

Eduard passes the baton on to Sally

The FRRP programme has been completed and ZonMw is now working towards the follow-up trajectory, namely the Promoting Good Science programme. Eduard worked with considerable pleasure and commitment on the FRRP programme. ‘After so many years, this seems a good moment to stop because otherwise, you run the risk of repeating yourself, and that is not wise, and neither should you want that.’ However, Eduard does not want to disappear from view entirely. ‘This subject is close to my heart, and so I would like to remain in touch with developments.’ Eduard is pleased that he can pass on the responsibility with confidence to Sally. ‘I wish Sally every success and, in particular, much job satisfaction, because it is also a genuinely exciting task.’

Better do to one thing well than try a thousand things

Sally is impressed by everything that has been achieved in recent years. ‘I hope that we can build further upon this’, she says. ‘It is an inspiring, important and interesting subject, and we still have a long way to go.’ Many challenges remain. ‘How will we give this shape for broader science domains, and how will we demonstrate the relevance of the PGW programme?’ asks Sally. ‘We need to take into account that many aspects of good research practices are strongly context-dependent and do not apply to all science disciplines.’ Sally has personally worked with many scientists from different disciplines and knows, like no other, that doing research in a responsible manner is not a universal concept. ‘We need to remain aware of that’, she adds.

Sally is inspired by the positive tone of the FRRP programme. ‘There was much attention for good practices and all the research that is done in a proper manner’, says Sally. ‘I think that this focus will allow us to exert a positive influence.’ Looking toward the future, Sally would like to see that reflecting on science becomes a normal thing to do. ‘Reflecting on your own work and that of others should not be seen as something that is independent of your day-to-day activities’, reasons Sally. ‘As scientists, reflecting is part of our responsibility with respect to ethics, politics and science.’ For the time being, the emphasis is a step-by-step approach. ‘We cannot do everything at once, and so we will need to establish priorities’, states Sally. Or, like Eduard says: ‘It’s better to do one thing well, than to try to bring a thousand things to fruition at the same time.’

The Promoting Good Science programme

The Promoting Good Science (PGS) programme is a follow-up trajectory to the Fostering Responsible Research Practices (FRRP) programme. The FRRP programme investigated science to be able to guarantee robust, qualitatively good and principled research. This involved examining the current science system and culture, such as the way in which scientists give shape to good science, and which problems they encounter in doing this. The FRRP programme started in 2016 and collected knowledge about what constitutes good science and which obstacles it encounters. In the follow-up programme PGW, this knowledge will be used to encourage sustainable system changes in science.

More information

news-8524 Thu, 14 Apr 2022 15:24:08 +0200 Now open! The JPIAMR Call “Diagnostics and Surveillance Networks”. https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/now-open-the-jpiamr-call-diagnostics-and-surveillance-networks/ The aim of this call is to assemble networks of leading experts and stakeholders with an intent to facilitate the development, optimisation, and use of diagnostic and surveillance tools, technologies and systems. Networks should work towards the conceptualisation of ideas in order to provide white papers, guidance documents and/or best practices/roadmaps and evidence frameworks to identify key questions to be addressed and/or potential
solutions to overcome barriers to enhanced surveillance and advanced diagnostics to reduce the burden of AMR.

When will the call open?

The call opens 12th April 2022. Full call text and the link to the online submission platform will be published when the call opens.

Who are participating?

Eleven (11) JPIAMR-ACTION members are participating in this network call to date. Each network coordinator will be able to apply for a maximum of 50,000 euros for a 12 or 24 months period for support of its activities.

What does a network look like?

A network should consist of a minimum of fifteen (15) partners (including coordinator) from at least ten (10) different countries. In addition, at least three (3) of the partners must come from three (3) different countries whose funding agencies are participating in the call. A network must include at least three (3) early career researchers. Please note that JPIAMR Network calls do not fund research projects.

  • The deadline for applicant proposals is June 14th, 2022 at 14.00 (CEST).
  • A webinar about the call is taking place on April 25th at 13.00 (CEST). Please register here.
  • A match-making tool has been created for applicants, to facilitate networking and the creation of consortia. The tool can be consulted for several purposes. The tool will be launched on April 12th, 2022.
  • For more information, activities, and application documentation - please visit the calls webpage
news-8484 Wed, 30 Mar 2022 15:47:00 +0200 Amendments to the General Terms and Conditions Governing Grants of ZonMw https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/amendments-to-the-general-terms-and-conditions-governing-grants-of-zonmw/ As from 1 April 2022, the General Terms and Conditions Governing Grants of ZonMw will be amended with regard to the final accountability reporting by the grant recipient. The biggest change is that from now on, for projects with a grant of €125,000 or more, an audit declaration will be required as a final accountability report. This amendment brings the ZonMw grant conditions into line with the 'Aanwijzingen voor subsidieverstrekking', a set of grant award regulations applying to central government and many independent public bodies. The amended grant conditions can be find here.

We are aware that this amendment will entail additional effort and costs for those involved in projects. However, ZonMw works with public funds and this requires careful accounting procedures. We will continue to make every effort to keep our accountability reporting as manageable as possible.

Applies to new awards

The amendment applies to all grants awarded after 1 April 2022. The final accountability report for grants awarded before 1 April 2022 may be submitted under the rules in the ZonMw grant conditions as adopted in 2013. Auditor’s fees may be claimed as eligible costs up to a specified maximum amount.

Administrative burden in line with grant amount

The starting point for this amendment was to bring the administrative burden for the recipient in line with the grant amount received. The lower the grant amount, the fewer or simpler the conditions, and the more efficient the final accountability reporting.

Any questions?

For any questions, please contact Abdalla Adoly on telephone number +31 70 349 5129 or send an e-mail.

news-8479 Tue, 29 Mar 2022 14:41:32 +0200 Genderful Research World: to integrate sex and gender in your research https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/genderful-research-world-to-integrate-sex-and-gender-in-your-research/ In the Summer of 2021, an international team of early career researchers won the ZonMw/CIHR-IGH Gender in Research Award. It allowed the team to bring their innovative idea for supporting health researchers in integrating sex and gender in research to life. Now they proudly present The Genderful Research World (GRW), an interactive online platform designed for health researchers to easily access resources related to integrating a sex- and gender-perspective in their work. The GRW is set up as a map of a landscape describing the various stages of the research process, to provide a playful and fun setting in which to explore various resources. We asked the team about the platform. 1. For whom is the platform designed?

The GRW platform is designed for health researchers at any stage of training or career. We have specifically selected existing best practice resources that would be of interest and relevance to those who are new to exploring the integration of sex and gender into their research work, as well as for more seasoned sex and gender researchers. The resources are tailored for biomedical (fundamental research) and medical/health scientist (clinical and public health research) research phases.

2. What is the added value of your platform?

In considering what problem we wanted to tackle when it came to sharing information about sex and gender with the health research community, it was immediately clear to us that the problem was not the availability of good resources. On the contrary, there are many fantastic, evidence-based, well-designed resources out there but they remain underutilized because they are often difficult to find and lack interactivity. We wanted to eliminate the need for health researchers to comb through many webpages to find the resources that fit their current needs in a fun and interactive way, as well as providing a trusted hub for them to return to in the future.

3. Why have you started developing this platform?

By winning the ZonMw Gender in Research award, we got the chance to realize this idea from paper to prototype. This platform was intended to house a repository of resources, but also to make the process of locating these resources fun, playful, and easy to navigate. We expected the GRW to stick in researcher’s memory and keep them coming back. It was great to see our expectations confirmed by the results our feasibility study, where most health scientist mentioned to come back to the GRW for teaching, research and writing proposals/grants.

4. What makes the integration of sex and gender in research so important?

Integrating a sex and gender perspective in research is important to ensure high-quality, rigourous research. We know enough about the differences biologically between sexes, as well as the sociocultural influences of gender, to know that a 'gender-blind' approach of ignoring sex and gender in research causes inaccurate results and inequitable care. It is a research quality issue, but also a social justice issue.  

5. Where can the reader find more information?

Meet the Genderful Research World Team!

Katelynn Boerner

Postdoctoral research fellow and registered psychologist at the Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada.

‘I wanted to develop this platform as I have suffered from the same challenge so many researchers have - finding the right resources when you need them! Instead of spending hours searching or saving helpful resources where you'll never find them again, the Genderful Research World offers everything you need for all stages of the research process in one fun, interactive place. I also strongly believe that sex- and gendersensitive research is critical to good, equitable science and healthcare, and am proud to be part of efforts to promote that.’

Irene Göttgens

Health scientist and a doctoral researcher at the Department of Primary and Community Care and the Department of Neurology; Center of Expertise for Parkinson & Movement Disorders, Radboudumc, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

‘While there are many valuable resources regarding the integration available, finding those that are relevant for the research phase you are currently in might be an overwhelming exercise for health researchers novel to the concepts of sex and gender. With the GRW we aimed to provide a curated selection of resources relevant for each key research phase as a starting point. To learn; to share; to inspire.’

Lena D. Sialino

PhD researcher in health sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam & National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

‘I have a personal passion for equity in health and gained extensive knowledge on sex and gender in health research during my PhD research. I wanted to share this knowledge with other researchers in a fun and easy way, to stimulate this much needed approach in health research.’

Jasmijn Sleutjes

Resident and clinical researcher, finalizing her doctoral degree at the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Erasmus MC, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

‘Although we can’t ignore it in the clinic anymore in this time of personalized medicine, in my research field there is not yet sufficient knowledge and implementation of sex and gender differences. This has motivated me to dive into this topic and inspire others: our Genderful Research World appears to be accessible and fun!’

Natália Valdrighi

Biomedical scientist pursuing her doctoral degree at the Experimental Rheumatology Department, Radboudumc, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

‘From my own experience as biomedical researcher trying to include sex into my research, I was initially unaware of so much resources that are already available regarding the integration of sex and gender. I therefore wanted to develop the Genderful Research World to make it easier to find the right resources, but also to (try to) "educate" other preclinical researches.’

news-8459 Thu, 24 Mar 2022 13:54:00 +0100 Microplastics present in human blood https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/microplastics-present-in-human-blood/ Researchers have demonstrated for the first time that small plastic particles from our living environment are present in the human circulatory system. The research team from VU Amsterdam and Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc, published their results today. Cutting edge research results

The results from the study ‘IMMUNOPLAST: Human immunotoxicological consequences of plastic particulate pollution’ (in Dutch) were published in the scientific journal ‘Environment International’. The team of researchers, led by ecotoxicologist Heather Leslie and analytical chemist Marja Lamoree, demonstrated that people take in microplastics from the environment on a daily basis and that the quantities present in their blood can be measured. This is something for which previous indications emerged from earlier laboratory experiments. Read more about this research in the press release from VU Amsterdam.

Follow-up research needed

Frank Pierik, programme manager Microplastics & Health at ZonMw says: ‘We need to realise that these are only the initial findings. There is still a long way to go before a proper risk assessment can be made.’ One follow-up question, for example, is how easily these particles can move from the circulatory system into organs and whether they cause any health effects there.

Microplastics & Health

This research was funded from ZonMw’s programme Microplastics & Health and by Common Seas (United Kingdom). With this programme, ZonMw facilitates the development of knowledge about the possible health effects of small plastic particles and what might be done to limit these effects. All 15 short projects in this programme have now been completed. Next, the researchers from these projects will join forces in the public-private consortium MOMENTUM. Extra follow-up research is also still required in order to predict the health risks of nano- and microplastics and possible solutions for this problem more tangible, as stated in the knowledge agenda published last year. The funding for the 15 ZonMw projects came from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and the Gieskes-Strijbis Fund.

Microplastics and the living environment

Microplastics is one of the subjects in the ZonMw theme Healthy living environment (in Dutch). We seek to provide policymakers and researchers with knowledge and tools so that they, together with other parties, may contribute to current and future societal and scientific challenges concerning a healthy living environment.

More information

news-8429 Wed, 16 Mar 2022 12:25:26 +0100 Faster and smarter with CHIM studies https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/faster-and-smarter-with-chim-studies/ In CHIM studies (Controlled Human Infection Model), study subjects are deliberately infected with a pathogen according to a protocol. Researchers study the immune system or the effects of a possible therapy. What makes CHIM studies so interesting?

Which characteristics does the immune system have before a patient is infected, and what changes during the incubation time? This can vary per patient. It is impossible to acquire information about this in naturally infected patients. Furthermore, nobody knows at what exact time patients are infected nor the dose with which the patient was infected. That is why CHIM studies are interesting. Study subjects are deliberately exposed to a pathogen such as a bacteria, virus or parasite. This is usually with a low dose or a weakened form. If participants nevertheless become ill, an effective therapy is available.

Fast and smart

CHIM studies are growing in popularity. Meta Roestenberg is Professor of Human Models for Vaccine Development at Leiden University Medical Center. ‘These studies are also interesting for pharmaceutical companies’, she says. ‘The study subject is administered a possibly effective vaccine or protective drug (prophylaxis), and then the effect is checked after deliberate exposure to the pathogen. If the drug ultimately proves to have an insufficient effect, we no longer need to perform an expensive and time-consuming phase 3 study in which the vaccine or working drug is investigated in thousands of patients. CHIM is not a substitution for these large studies into the effectiveness. However, it is a tool to do things faster and smarter.’

CHIM studies into whooping cough and RSV

Dimitri Diavatopoulos, an immunologist at Radboudumc, investigates whooping cough. ‘For decades, infants have been vaccinated against this bacterial infection’, he says. ‘Nevertheless, the disease is occurring increasingly often, because even though the vaccine can limit disease symptoms, it is less efficient at preventing someone from becoming infected. We are searching for a new vaccine that helps prevent bacterial infection. If we are successful, then hopefully there will no longer be any whooping cough infections.’ He uses a CHIM for the research; adult study subjects are administered the whooping cough bacteria via the nasal mucosa. Diavatopoulos: ‘Due to ethical considerations, it is not possible to conduct such a study on children. CHIMs also have limitations, it is a fit-for-purpose model.’

Louis Bont, Professor of Infectious diseases at University Medical Center Utrecht, has developed a possible drug against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This is a common respiratory virus that kills 200,000 babies worldwide each year. A CHIM study will soon start, for which participants will not be admitted to a hospital but will be quarantined at home. ‘That is comfortable for them’, he says, ‘and it saves us a lot of costs.’

Ethical frameworks of the WHO

Research in which healthy people are infected is controversial and has a fraught history. In the first half of the 20th-century, people in prisons and concentration camps were deliberately infected. Meta Roestenberg: ‘Nowadays, the ethical frameworks of CHIM studies receive a lot of attention. For example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a guideline for questions such as: how do you weigh up the risks against the importance of the research? Sometimes, that is clear: nobody would start a CHIM using HIV. However, there are also models in which the deliberations are complex or in which local societal influences play a role.’

Is there a role for CHIM studies in research into SARS-CoV-2?

An example of a model in which local societal influences play a role is the CHIM model for SARS-CoV-2. In the United States, CHIM studies are not being done, whereas they are being realised in the United Kingdom. On behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, ZonMw appointed a committee of experts that assessed the utility and necessity of CHIM studies into SARS-CoV-2 for the Netherlands. Meta Roestenberg was the applicant for the study, and Dimitri Diavatopoulos and Louis Bont were members of the committee as was paediatrician Else Bijker from the University of Oxford. The report was submitted to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in September 2021.

Wait, debate and prepare now policy

Based on the report from the committee members, ZonMw advised a wait, debate and prepare now policy. ‘Young people can also become severely ill from the virus or develop Long COVID. There is no absolutely effective medicine available’, says Else Bijker. But if we prepare properly, we will be able to start effectively as soon as the need is sufficiently high.’

‘Is there fire damage or extinguishing damage?’

‘Sometimes, a CHIM is the only possibility to distinguish cause and consequence’, says Louis Bont. For example, do people fall ill from SARS-CoV-2 or from the immune response to it? In a nutshell, are we talking about fire damage or extinguishing damage?’ He doubts whether a CHIM against SARS-CoV-2 should be started in a situation where there were few infections. If there are many infections, as is currently the case, then a different deliberation could be made.

‘A CHIM can lead to unexpected findings’

Dimitri Diavatopoulos would welcome a study into SARS-CoV-2. ‘A CHIM can lead to unexpected findings’, he says. ‘In the CHIM for whooping cough, we discovered that study subjects with antibodies in their nasal mucosa had not produced antibodies in their blood. Neither did they become infected after exposure to the bacteria; we did not detect the bacteria in these subjects at any of the check-ups. However, study subjects that had no antibodies in the mucosa did show an increase in antibodies in the blood. We also found the bacteria in their nasal mucosa during the check-ups. We soon plan to start a similar CHIM study into pneumococci, a bacteria that can cause pneumonia. The role of the mucosa is very interesting.’

‘These are complex studies, and we have the expertise’

Meta Roestenberg is also a proponent of CHIM research into SARS-CoV-2 in the Netherlands. ‘A variant could emerge that is insensitive for the current vaccines’, she said at the time of the interview. ‘We would do well to be prepared for that.’ She believes the Netherlands – together with several other countries – is ideally suited for CHIM studies. ‘Our ethical committees and regulatory bodies are strong, and our labs satisfy the highest safety and quality requirements. These are complex studies, and we have the expertise. Try culturing a vial of viruses. That is anything but simple.’

Download the English summary of the advisory report


Download the (full) advisory report in Dutch

COVID-19 programme

Together with the commissioning bodies, policymakers, researchers, patients, professionals from the field, data professionals and international partners, ZonMw is working on current and future possibilities to contribute with research and knowledge to solutions that combat coronavirus and COVID-19 and their effects on society. The advisory report is one aspect of this.

Text: Riëtte Duynstee
Final editing: ZonMw

Read this article in Dutch

news-8412 Mon, 14 Mar 2022 09:41:16 +0100 ZonMw and NWO fund a research project to improve the measurability of a broad view of health https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/zonmw-and-nwo-fund-a-research-project-to-improve-the-measurability-of-a-broad-view-of-health/ Health encompasses far more than just the absence of illnesses. A growing number of initiatives stimulate a broader view on health in which people take centre stage. One of those initiatives is the movement Positive Health. But how can you determine whether these initiatives and the policy developed in relation to them actually have an effect? In collaboration with the NWO Domain Social Sciences and Humanities, ZonMw has funded a research project that will develop a measurement tool appropriate for a broad understanding of health. The awarded project will develop a measurement tool to assess t   he health of people in vulnerable situations. This tool can be used at the level of the individual, an organisation as well as a partnership. It can be deployed in experimental settings to objectively determine the effects of healthcare interventions or policy measures with respect to the broad understanding of health. The project will also involve ethical issues to refine and improve the tool and assess the use of the tool in everyday practice.. In addition, a learning network will be established as part of the project to stimulate a proper exchange of insights between policy, research, education and practice.

Follow-up to previous research programming about Quality of Life and Health

This grant is a follow-up to previous incentive activities from ZonMw and NWO concerning the measurement of the quality of life and health. These were presented, for example, at the joint closing conference ‘Quality of Life and Health’ (June 2019, Dutch only) and the discussion platform about the measurement of Positive Health (Dutch only).

More information

news-8410 Mon, 14 Mar 2022 07:51:33 +0100 Response to questions about the male-female ratio in the ZonMw Vici round 2021 https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/response-to-questions-about-the-male-female-ratio-in-the-zonmw-vici-round-2021/ Last week, we announced this year’s recipients of a Vici grant for the Domain Medical Research and Care Innovation. As the grants this year went to six men and not to a single woman, various researchers and advocacy groups have expressed their concern to ZonMw and NWO about this skewed gender balance. We would like to take this opportunity to explain how the procedure was realised and to point out that besides quality, we also took diversity and inclusiveness into account when making the decision. Diversity in our grant-awarding processes

ZonMw and NWO accord great importance to equal opportunities and diversity in their grant-awarding processes. We are aware that bias can play a role in the assessment, and prior to the assessment and selection meetings, we therefore always bring these issues to the attention of our committee members. Past research into the possible gender effects in the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme 2005-2016 (now called the Talent Scheme) has revealed that there was no gender inequality in the Veni, Vidi and Vici grants.

Quality and gender balance

The assessment criteria concern the applicant’s CV, quality of the proposal and the knowledge utilisation described in the proposal. Further, the committee also examines other aspects, such as the gender balance. Consequently, the policy is that in the case of an equal ranking (ex aequo situation) of a male and a female candidate at the selection threshold, the proposal from a female applicant will be accorded the higher ranking. However, in this round, there was no ex aequo situation. After the completion of the interview round with the Vici candidates, it transpired that on the basis of the final ranking and the available budget, only men were eligible for funding. During the selection meeting, the committee extensively discussed the skewed gender balance in a plenary session. The conclusion was that there were no procedural reasons to adjust the ranking. It was mainly the assessment of the research plan and knowledge utilisation that proved crucial for awarding the proposals. Based on the final ranking, the committee ultimately had to conclude that more candidates were eligible for funding than the available budget allowed.

Equal submission and award rates

Two years ago, there was also a skewed gender balance, when six women and not a single man were awarded funding. Figures from the past three rounds reveal a considerable fluctuation in the male-female ratio. However, if we examine the male-female ratio over a longer period, namely 2017-2021, then we can see that for the Domain Health Research and Medical Innovation (ZonMw) an average of 38.6% of the proposals were submitted by women. During the past five years, on average, 38% of the ZonMw Vici grants were awarded to women, and this includes the 2021 round.

Review Talent Scheme

We encourage quality and talent as equally diversity and inclusiveness. We therefore continue to critically examine our assessment and selection processes. In the evaluation of this round and during the review of the NWO Talent Scheme, we will continue to assess a wide range of aspects, including diversity and inclusion. For example, a video about inclusive assessment was recently produced for committee members, and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic years will possibly be examined too.

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news-8362 Mon, 28 Feb 2022 09:15:00 +0100 6 medical scientists receive NWO Vici grants https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/6-medical-scientists-receive-nwo-vici-grants/ 12 prominent scientists from the science domains Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) and Health and Research Development (ZonMw) are to receive Vici grants worth up to 1.5 million euros. 6 of them will contribute to more insight in diseases and theit treatments. Vici is one of the largest scientific grants for individuals in the Netherlands and targets advanced researchers. The Vici grant will enable the laureates to develop an innovative line of research and set up their own research group for a period of five years. The scientists conduct research in different fields. The Vici grant gives them the freedom to propose their own research project for funding. Several laureates will be working on different ways or methods of treating cancer.

Adjusted scheduling

The Vici is awarded annually by NWO. A total of 91 applications were submitted for the AES and ZonMw domains, 12 of which were awarded. These awards concern part 1 of the 2021 Vici round. The Vici awards for the Science (ENW) and Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) domains are expected in mid-March. Due to illness and absence caused by COVID-19, the assessment is taking longer than anticipated. To avoid leaving scientists in suspense any longer, NWO decided to announce the AES and ZonMw grants already. Once all the grants are known, all the figures, facts and funding percentages of this round will follow.

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news-7402 Thu, 17 Feb 2022 11:22:00 +0100 Webinar Series on COVID-19 vaccination in immunocompromised patients https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/webinar-series-on-covid-19-vaccination-in-immunocompromised-patients/ ZonMw is organizing a Zoom Webinar series covering different ongoing studies in the Netherlands that are investigating vaccination against COVID-19 in people with a hampered immune system. The second Webinar will take place on April 4th, 2022. COVID-19 vaccination studies

From January 2021, 8 different studies have been initiated by ZonMw on COVID-19 vaccination in immunocompromised patients. These studies are taking place in different research Institutes within the Netherlands. To enable swift and efficient implementation of study-results ZonMw involves the National Institute for Public Health and Environment, the Ministry of Health and the Health Council of the Netherlands in the ongoing research process.

Together with our clients, policymakers, advisory bodies, researchers, patients, practice professionals, data professionals and international partners, ZonMw is working on possibilities to contribute research and knowledge, now and in the future, to solutions in the fight against the coronavirus and COVID-19 and the its effects on society.

Webinar #2

In this Webinar, projectleaders dr. Virgil Dalm from Erasmus MC and dr. Inger Nijhof from Amsterdam UMC will share results from the VACOPID study: patients with primary immunodeficiencies and the COBRA-KAI study: patients with a haematological condition. Prof. dr. Martijn Luijsterburg will host this Webinar, together with Daniel Warmerdam.

Date and time

4 April 2022, 05:00 - 06:00 PM (GMT +1:00 Amsterdam).

Who can/ should sign up for the webinars?

This Webinar Series is aimed at transferring knowledge to an (inter)national audience of researchers, practitioners, informed patients and policy makers. The Webinar will therefore be offered in English.

Sign up!

> Sign up through the following link

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Updated on: February 21th

news-8307 Thu, 10 Feb 2022 09:34:00 +0100 KWF Dutch Cancer Society and NWO publish a call for research to detect cancer early with technological innovations https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/kwf-dutch-cancer-society-and-nwo-publish-a-call-for-research-to-detect-cancer-early-with-technologi/ Early detection of cancer increases the chance of a better prognosis for the patient. This is not only an enormous benefit for the patient, but also the costs for the healthcare system and the social and economic impact of cancer will be lower. Therefore KWF, NWO and ZonMw invite researchers for research proposals for technological innovations for early detection and diagnosis that meet personal, medical and social needs. We ask researchers to enter into new collaborations with colleagues from various disciplines, healthcare providers and companies. The technological innovations to be developed can be successfully applied if they result in usable products. Possible applications in the research are the smart use of wearables, breathalysers or genetic tests. In these ways, it would be possible to discover whether someone is at risk of developing cancer and what specific diagnosis, intervention or treatment would be required.

The deadline for submitting proposals for this new call for proposals is 10 May. An information and matchmaking meeting will be held on 29 March.

More information can be found on the website of NWO:

news-8135 Thu, 16 Dec 2021 16:46:38 +0100 Systematic reviews of preclinical studies increase transparency and quality of animal research https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/systematic-reviews-of-preclinical-studies-increase-transparency-and-quality-of-animal-research/ An impact study published on 13 December 2021 in the journal PLOS ONE reveals that systematic reviews increase the transparency and quality of animal research. Accordingly, systematic reviews contribute to better animal research, increase the quality of medical research and contribute to open science. In 2012, ZonMw started to fund the training, coaching and conduct of systematic reviews for animal research. Better design of animal research

In a systematic review or systematic reviews of animal studies, a researcher creates a thorough and complete overview of all previously published research carried out within a certain subject. Such a systematic review into the design, realisation, results and conclusions of studies reveals the quality of the research realised, the suitability of a certain model, and whether data are missing, amongst other aspects. This knowledge subsequently helps researchers to set up their own animal research and to make a choice for a specific animal model. That can be realised, for example, by investigating which knowledge is already available and which model would be the most suitable for a specific research question. By doing this, the researchers increase the quality of their own research: ‘I was just much more mindful about the blinding, randomisation, the sources of bias. We put an enormous amount of effort into doing that properly’, said one of the researchers interviewed.

Preventing research waste

In addition, researchers who use a systematic review prevent the unnecessary repetition of research (research waste) and increase the chance that animal research is worthwhile and effective (preventing animal waste). The benefit of systematic reviews is broader than merely a better research design and the prevention of animal waste. It leads to better and more transparent research reports and consequently to better drugs and treatments.

Effect on three levels: team, research field and science

Systematic reviews also stimulate more than just the quality of the research with laboratory animals. ‘It made me really more aware of why you [would] want to use animals and in what way. And even though in my own research I would want to do it in a good way, I saw that we also have flaws, and it made me more aware of what you’re actually doing when you’re doing animal research’, states one of the participants from the impact study. The study reveals that researchers who perform a systematic review also acquire an exemplary role in their research team. They share their knowledge about systematic reviews and their new insights on study quality, thus training their colleagues. The coached and trained researchers also make for good ambassadors for better research. Based on their positive experiences, they call for systematic reviews to be performed more often and in greater numbers. With this and their review findings, they inspire colleagues in their research field, e.g., improve model choice, stimulate the conduct of new primary studies and reviews. Finally, by including the method of systematic reviews in the education and training of researchers, systematic reviews can become structurally embedded in scientific research. Research funding bodies and ethics committees could include systematic reviews in the conditions for grant proposals submitted by researchers. This could help systematic reviews become a recurring important instrument for good research and the standard for responsible science.

Better and more reliable animal research

For the impact study, the authors of the article in PLOS ONE disseminated an online questionnaire among project leaders in the ZonMw research programme More Knowledge with Fewer Animals (MKMD). These project leaders had received funding for training and coaching in and the conduct of a systematic review. Furthermore, an in-depth interview was held with eight of these researchers. Although the positive results from the impact study are a consequence of the combination training- coaching-conduct and involve only a limited number of respondents, the conclusions are positive: systematic reviews lead to better animal research and more reliable results. The results of the impact study can be read in PLOS ONE.

Transition to animal-free innovations

With the programme More Knowledge with Fewer Animals, ZonMw is facilitating the transition to innovations without the use of animals and, in so doing, contributes to the TPI platform (Transition Programme for Innovation without the use of animals) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. In addition, the MKMD programme also offers a module for infrastructure. This module was created for the conduct of systematic reviews and to encourage the open access publication of negative or neutral results from animal research. Within this module, researchers can also request funding for a systematic review workshop.

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news-8130 Thu, 16 Dec 2021 12:06:00 +0100 89 researchers awarded a NWO Veni grant worth 250,000 euros https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/89-researchers-awarded-a-nwo-veni-grant-worth-250000-euros/ The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded 89 highly promising young scientists from the ENW and ZonMw domain a Veni grant worth up to 250,000 euros. The grant provides the laureates with the opportunity to further elaborate their own ideas during a period of three years. The Veni laureates will conduct research on a variety of subjects such as slowing Parkinson through exercise or the physical nature of radio bursts. The Veni will also be employed to investigate global warming and the relation between the aging of the brain and insomnia

Altered planning

The Veni is awarded by NWO every year. These awards are half of the 2021 the round. Last years, NWO had to alter its planning of the Veni rounds. First as a result of the pandemic, and then as a result of a hack, which forced NWO to suspend all activities. Last spring, this led to different planning scenarios for the various science domains. NWO used the original planning from before the hack for the science domains ENW (no preproposal phase yet) and ZonMw (not affected by the hack), whereas the revised planning applied to the SSH and AES domains.  When all decisions about the awards have been made, all facts and figures will be published together.

NWO Talent Programme

Together with Vidi and Vici, Veni is part of the NWO Talent Programme. Veni is aimed at excellent researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate. Researchers in the Talent Programme are free to submit their own subject for funding. NWO thus encourages curiosity-driven and innovative research. NWO selects researchers based on the quality of the researcher, the innovative character of the research, the expected scientific impact of the research proposal and the possibilities for knowledge use.

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news-8099 Thu, 09 Dec 2021 14:34:53 +0100 Recap SYMPOSIUM: Microplastics and human health research in The Netherlands – State of the Science https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/recap-symposium-microplastics-and-human-health-research-in-the-netherlands-state-of-the-science/ This publication provides a recap of the online symposium ‘Microplastics and human health research in The Netherlands’ that was held on 4 November 2021. About one hundred researchers and policymakers exchanged knowledge about the latest research results from fifteen breakthrough projects within the ZonMw research programme ‘Microplastics and Health’. Attention was also paid to MOMENTUM, Microplastics & Human Health Consortium, the new public-private consortium that has arisen from the breakout projects. Importance of research

Symposium moderator Juliette Legler opened the symposium with general information about ZonMw’s programme Microplastics & Human Health. Programme manager Frank Pierik provided further details about the programme and emphasised its intended objectives. He drew attention to the impact of microplastics on our health and the importance of health research into micro-and nanoplastics (MNPs). The breakthrough projects will be followed up in MOMENTUM.

Project coordinator Juliette Legler and co-coordinator Dick Vethaak emphasised the size of the consortium, which has 27 partners that come from both industry and research. The three-year funding of MOMENTUM has been provided by ZonMw, TNO, Health~Holland, Top Sectors and private partners such as UMC Utrecht, the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), KWR Water Research Institute, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The consortium will continue health research into microplastics, from a toxicological perspective, starting with the characteristics of MNPs, the exposure scenarios and, finally, the risk assessment.

Effects of small particles

The introduction was followed by an apt double keynote lecture. What can we learn from other disciplines where small particles play a role? Paul Borm (Nanoconsult) gave us insight into the behaviour of small particles from the perspective of nanotechnology. The surface, shape and size of small particles determine their behaviour. It is also important to include the dose and concentration in the final risk assessment.

Flemming Cassee (RIVM/Utrecht University) continued the keynote with the effects small particles have inside our bodies. Nanoplastics reach the internal organs faster than microplastics. However, we still know little about the long-term effects of chronic exposure and the amount of plastics that can accumulate in the body.

Plastic particles in the circulatory system, organs and tissues?

In the subsequent session, the latest research results were presented about the uptake, transport and toxicology of MNPs in cell culture models. Various models must answer the question as to whether and to what extent MNPs reach the circulatory system, human organs and tissues. Heather Leslie (VU Amsterdam) investigated the presence of MNPs in the circulatory system and concluded that follow-up research is needed into plastic particles in the circulatory system. Combined with the initial results from Hanna Dusza (Utrecht University/IRAS) there is a strong indication for the presence of the particles in the placenta and amniotic fluid.

Toxicologist Hans Bouwmeester (Wageningen University and Research) provided a better understanding of the release and transport of chemicals that leach from MNPs, for example in the intestines. The potential risks associated with these chemicals for human health are expected to be significant to such an extent that follow-up research will be necessary. In addition, chronic exposure should be investigated too.

Free-riding pathogens

Besides the danger of MNPs and the possible release of chemicals, another risk is the presence of potential pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that catch a ride on the surface of the particles. Ana Maria de Roda Husman (RIVM) and Bas van der Zaan (Deltares) are investigating this. Differences in the presence of microorganisms are determined by the site where the microplastics are found. Beach litter proved to be the most microbiologically contaminated. Also, the hygienic conditions make a difference with respect to the encountered number of resistance genes: the genes that bacteria exchange to strengthen their resistance to antibiotics.

The response of the human immune system to the microbes present on microplastics was also investigated. The plastic particles with biofilms, which contain potential pathogens, gave a stronger immune response in a tested cell culture model.

Barbro Melgert (University of Groningen) described the dangers of the lungs being exposed to inhaled clothing fibres. As high exposure to microplastic fibres among textile workers has been associated with the development of lung diseases, the effect of polyester and nylon fibres on the lungs was investigated using model mini lungs (so-called organoids). Nylon or polyester fibres inhibited the growth of the mini lungs. Especially nylon was found to influence the growth phase of the lungs. The cause was found to lie in the chemicals released from the microfibres and therefore not in the nylon fibres themselves.

Effect of ocean plastics on the immune system

After a short break, the symposium continued with a presentation from toxicologist Yvonne Staal (RIVM). She investigated ocean plastics and plastics collected along the coast, and their effects on the human immune system. In the laboratory, immune cells in a cell culture were exposed to a range of ground plastic particles of different sizes.

The conclusion was that the chemical composition, the number of particles and the particle size determine how strongly immune cells respond. The cell-killing effect of the immune system was stimulated the most by the smallest particles, up to 50 µm in size. Also, weathered particles, particles damaged by UV radiation or surface water, elicited a stronger response of immune cells. In particular, the chemical and physical properties of the particles determine the immune cell response.

Microplastics in intestines and lungs

Evita van der Steeg and Ingeborg Kooter (TNO) examined the response of immune cells in the intestines. They developed a 3D intestinal tissue model and a 3D lung epithelial model to investigate the effect of microplastics on human and pig cells. They aimed to answer the question of whether the intestines and lungs can take up microplastics and what the possible biological effects are when this happens. Car tyres, ocean plastic, HDPE, polystyrene and nylon fibres were included in the study. The intestines absorbed about 6% of the tested particles and the lungs 4%. A moderate inflammatory response could be seen in both the lungs and intestines. After just 24 hours, inflammatory proteins were measurable in the intestines in the presence of nylon fibres. The barrier function of the intestines also decreased.

Annemijne van den Berg (Utrecht University, IRAS) and Nienke Vrisekoop (University Medical Center Utrecht) partially confirmed these results and performed additional experiments. Van den Berg discovered that allergic responses might occur after repeated (oral) intake of microplastics. Vrisekoop found that larger plastic particles are more rapidly encapsulated by the immune system than smaller particles but that, in general, not the size but the number of particles determines the strength of the immune response.

Knowledge gaps

The last session focused on creating awareness with respect to existing gaps in research into MNPs. This session started with a keynote lecture and closed with a panel discussion.

Keynote lecture

In his keynote lecture, Bart Koelmans (Wageningen University and Research) emphasised the complexity of the risk assessment for MNPs. The actual risk of exposure to MNPs is difficult to calculate as not all the risk parameters are known. And these include not just the risks of the plastics, but also the chemicals and microorganisms that are associated with these. Koelmans is therefore building a risk assessment model with parameters such as particle size, concentrations, and inhalation, intake and uptake rates. Other important factors are the part of the plastic that is not taken up, tissue size, and the part of the plastic that is excreted via the urine or intestines. To find out what the chemicals do, it is also important to know how many chemicals are released into the intestines during a human life. Excretion and uptake in the intestines play a role too, because plastic particles can release chemicals and pick them up again.

The huge diversity in microplastics and the lack of key data, such as the surface of the particles and internal exposure concentrations, make the development of a risk model enormously complex. Such a model needs to be developed, however, to determine how exposure to microplastics affects human health. The figures in the lab must also be comparable with figures about exposure to microplastics in the air and via the intake of food.

Besides the uncertainty about the figures, there is also no consensus between experts regarding the reliability and use of all data. For example, what are permissible values for human exposure to plastic particles? Until that is clear, no policy can be developed in this area. In a nutshell, there are still many research questions that the MOMENTUM consortium needs to answer.

Panel discussion about the research gaps

Following the poster presentations from the speakers and the private MOMENTUM partners in separate breakout rooms, knowledge gaps took centre stage during the last part of the symposium: the panel discussion. Dick Vethaak moderated discussions between the following panel members: Jeroen Geurts (ZonMw), Bart Koelmans (Wageningen University and Research), Flemming Cassee (RIVM), Paul Borm, Nanoconsult), Jane Muncke (Food Packaging Forum Australia), Lukas Kenner (Institute for Cancer Research Vienna) and Ardi Dortmans (TNO).

After a brief introduction from each panel member and their own input for the discussion, the panel members discussed the next steps in health research into MNPs. They also elaborated on the questions and uncertainties that emerged during the discussion.

"We should focus on prevention"

Ardi Dortmans (TNO) emphasised the importance of translating research results into realistic information for people. Plastics are everywhere, and so everybody is continuously exposed to these. Despite this, the expected health risk at the individual level is not that great, but it is at the population level. According to Dortmans, we should therefore focus on prevention, in other words, how can we reduce the huge amount of plastic waste? He suggests, for example, new, reusable production possibilities for plastics.

More research needed into the biological effects of nano- and microplastics

According to Flemming Cassee (RIVM) and Paul Borm (Nanoconsult) there are still many unknown biological effects of MNPs, and we cannot proceed further until we know these. Information about chronic exposure is one such example. Many panel members agreed with this. With his keynote lecture, Bart Koelmans (WUR) had already clearly stated the knowledge gaps in this area. The first step is understanding the biological mechanisms and concentrations in the tissues before something can be said about the risks. Further research is needed to acquire this understanding.

Follow-up research is also needed because much of the knowledge in the literature, about 83%, is concerned with health research into polystyrene MNPs that are mainly used in packaging material. However, many more different types of plastic are present in our drinking water, food and the air. Consequently, too little data is available about the various MNPs to be able to properly set up the risk assessment.

Finally, Jeroen Geurts (ZonMw) added that the knowledge agenda ‘What do microplastics do in our body?’ clearly lists the knowledge needs for research, policy and innovation. The agenda also describes a strategy to develop applicable knowledge.

How can humans reduce the many plastics in the environment?

The discussion continued by stating that research into MNPs needs to be placed in a broader context because it not only concerns human health. How can people reduce the many plastics in the environment to satisfy the climate objectives of 2050 as well? One of the solutions is to reduce (food) consumption and with that plastic packaging, emphasised Jane Muncke (Food Packaging Forum). This can be achieved by, on the one hand, using less plastic and, on the other, by increasing recycling and reuse.

But, and that was possibly the most important conclusion, we will need to switch to entirely new materials as a substitute for plastic to reduce the accumulation of especially the smallest particles in the environment and the human body. Degradable polymers could possibly be the future, and so a collaboration with chemists who contribute their ideas is indispensable.

Closing remarks

Juliette Legler closed the symposium with the final conclusion that follow-up research into MNPs is needed to bridge the knowledge gaps identified. She thanked the keynote speakers, Flemming Cassee and Paul Borm, for sharing their knowledge about the research field of small nanoparticles, and Bart Koelmans for the first concrete steps towards risk assessment.

All of this information is highly relevant to establish the risks to human health. Juliette also briefly summarised the research results and the role of the MOMENTUM consortium in following up on these.

National and international collaborations are vital for fully describing the risk assessment and dangers of MNPs. Juliette called on MOMENTUM participants to establish the necessary collaborations with European projects. Finally, the participants were invited to the informal virtual drinks and networking and thanked for their attendance.

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news-8098 Sun, 14 Nov 2021 14:20:00 +0100 Follow-up research into the health risks of microplastics needed https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/follow-up-research-into-the-health-risks-of-microplastics-needed/ This article shows that the impact of nano- and microplastics on human health is still largely unknown. Follow-up research is therefore needed because for decades, people have come into contact with the small plastic particles in their living environment via the air, water and food. These small particles vary in size from nanometres to micrometres. Health damage in people and animals

It has already become clear that these particles, albeit at high concentrations, can cause health damage (toxicity of particles) in animals. Furthermore, these particles might introduce harmful chemical substances or pathogens into the body.

Within the ZonMw programme Microplastics & Health the effects of microplastics on human health have been explored in 15 projects. All of the projects started in 2019 and the initial results are now known. Experimental human material or laboratory animals were exposed to micro- and nanoplastics. This revealed that small plastic particles can pass through the intestinal wall, lungs, placenta and even the blood-brain barrier. They also appear to disrupt the functioning of the different body cells of these organs. In some instances, inflammatory responses occur too.

Reduced gastrointestinal function

Plastic particles can enter the body and come into contact with the intestines via the food chain, for example when people eat fish and shellfish. For a long time, the effect on our intestinal health remained unclear, but now the first results are emerging. Short-term exposure to plastic particles between 1 and 10 µm in size can cause a decrease in the functioning of the large intestine. Sometimes, the particles influenced the viability of the cells and the permeability (tested on human and pig cells) too, but only at high concentrations. The plastics HDPE and nylon were also found to cause a decrease in the barrier function of the intestines. As a result of this, the permeability of the cells increased.

The plastic polystyrene was likewise capable of doing this and could be seen inside the intestines within just 5 hours of exposure. About 6% of the tested particles were absorbed by the intestines. Particles of 10 µm passed through the intestinal membrane easiest due to the large influence they exerted on the permeability of the intestine.

Chemical substances in the intestine

Ingesting food increases the exposure of our intestines to micro- and nanoplastics. That can cause chemical substances to be released, such as softening agents and flame retardants, which can also become part of our food via packaging material. No less than 183 such chemicals were present in microplastic litter on the beach.

The latest results from the intestines projects reveal that these chemicals, which adhere to the microplastics, can pass through the intestinal wall. This concerns potentially toxic organic compounds, such as persistent organic pollutants that are produced by humans. These substances, in addition to metals, were found on microplastics on the beach. About 22 chemicals could pass through the intestinal epithelium when these were tested in a cell culture model. Some reached the innermost part of the intestines, and others reached organs of the gastrointestinal tract.

Altogether 18 of the above-mentioned 22 chemicals influenced molecular and cellular processes in such a manner that undesirable pathways were initiated that could give rise to a disrupted tissue function and/or hormone balance. On a side note, exposure in humans was not included in this experiment, and so it is not clear whether the tested amounts of microplastics in the gastrointestinal model provide a realistic outcome. The exposed quantities might, in reality, be lower, but that exposure is chronic.

Inflammatory responses

In the blood, the macrophages (a certain type of immune cell that normally engulfs pathogens) become extra active in response to microplastics. This means that inflammatory responses could occur. Due to the presence of microplastics in the intestines, inflammatory proteins were also activated. However, that was not always the case because that depended on the type of plastic tested. Polystyrene, in particular, was found to activate inflammatory proteins, for example. In addition, certain immune cells from the adaptive immune system are extra active in response to polystyrene. Researchers noticed that ‘weathered’ plastic particles damaged by UV radiation and surface water caused a larger response from body cells.

Disrupted lung function

The lungs also experience negative influences from the presence of microplastics. In the lungs, almost 4% of a high concentration of polystyrene nanoplastics passed through the tissue. This type of plastic could already be seen in the lungs within 24 hours. A moderate inflammatory response was observed in the lungs as well.

As the high exposure of textile workers to microplastic fibres has been correlated with the development of lung diseases, the effect of polyester and nylon fibres on the lungs was investigated too. That took place in two simulated mini lungs. Lung epithelial tissue from both mice and humans was investigated. Particles of 15 and 10 µm were taken up by the respiratory passages. The smallest particles of 5 µm even reached the lung vesicles at the end of the bronchioles. The result was that the mini lungs grew less well or repaired less well after damage.

Harmful chemicals from nylon fibres

Nylon fibres, in particular, inhibited the growth of the lungs. The next question was whether this inhibition was the consequence of the nylon fibres or the chemicals leaching  from these. Chemicals that leach from the fibres were found to inhibit the growth. Further, as previously stated, a moderate inflammatory response was observed in the presence of nylon fibres. Nylon therefore directly affects the development of the mini lungs, a result that deserves further research.

Encapsulation by immune cells

The immune system also responds to microplastics. Immune cells view microplastics as foreign particles. In consequence, they respond to these in the same way as they would to pathogens: certain immune cells encapsulate particles to break them down. However, the researchers discovered that they only do that if they are surrounded by blood proteins. If not, the immune cells leave the particles alone.

The effect of exposure to microplastics via the skin was likewise investigated. Immune cells in the skin become active and respond mainly to weathered plastic particles, which are particles damaged by UV radiation and surface water. Subsequently, they activate the attackers of the immune system, the T-cells, which initiate a range of inflammatory responses. The size of the particles does not particularly matter: the immune cells devoured particles of variable sizes. The smallest particles did, nevertheless, cause the strongest response.

Allergic reaction

Further, it has become clear that dendritic cells, certain first-line immune cells active in mainly the skin, responded more strongly as soon as they came into contact again with plastic particles. This points to the development of an allergy to microplastics: the researchers do not exclude the possibility that this could arise after repeated exposure to plastics.

In follow-up research, multiple microorganisms and their microbial components such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and endotoxins should be tested. It is also important to test the response of the immune system after plastic ingestion in the case of intestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Ocean plastic and the immune system

The response of the immune system depends on the type of plastic and whether or not this is weathered. That was revealed by research in which use was made of plastics collected in the ocean and on the coast, which were ground into a range of microplastics in the lab. Four different types of plastics were investigated with a size of between 20 and 200 µm. The chemical composition, the number of particles and the particle size determine how vigorously immune cells respond. The most recent results reveal that the smallest particles, from 20 to 50 µm, most strongly stimulate the cell-killing effect of the immune system. In the follow-up research, the scientists want to test more inflammatory substances and measure the immune cells’ response to particles that possibly contain pathogens.

Inhibition of brain enzyme

Experiments with rodents and brain cell cultures revealed that nanoplastics can reach the brain and also pass through the blood-brain barrier. There they even influence the communication between immune cells: they inhibit an important enzyme that is necessary for the communication between brain cells. The further effect on the functioning of the brain is limited, or has not yet been demonstrated due to the short duration of the experiment. For this reason, follow-up research into the long-term effects of nanoplastics on the brain is necessary.

Plastic particles in human blood, placenta and amniotic fluid

The researchers are still examining whether and to what extent plastic particles are present in the human placenta, amniotic fluid and blood. As only a few samples have been tested, the researchers are cautious about drawing the conclusion that plastic particles are present (in measurable concentrations) in the blood circulation and foetal environment. However, the uptake of smaller microplastics and nanoplastics by placenta cells has been demonstrated in a laboratory setting.

Damage to placenta cells

In vitro experiments were carried out with a human placenta cell model. After just 1 to 2 hours, microplastics were visible in the placenta and especially the smallest particles were quickly absorbed by the placenta cells. Both the particles and any chemicals leaching out of these can cause damage to the foetal environment.

It was likewise demonstrated that the expression of a specific gene changed under the influence of pristine or clean microplastics. That gene codes for a protein that plays a role in female hormone production. The implications of this still need to be further investigated. Researchers will also further examine the different types of weathered and clean microplastics and their uptake and transport in the placenta. Possible hormone disruptions and the effect on the immune system will be included in this study.

Pathogens on microplastics

In surface water, microplastics are also a good carrier of pathogens such as bacteria. These pathogens adhere to microplastics in the water, can be transported over large distances and form a danger to public health. The River Rhine was sampled at both the coast and the German border to investigate this. Different plastics were collected with more than 200,000 particles per m3 of water. Potential pathogens and plastic decomposing bacteria were found on these particles.

In another project, microplastics were exposed to water that came from a wastewater treatment plant. The plastics were found to be microbiologically contaminated, which could be seen from the presence of the many genes that render bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Particles in these dirty environments had more resistance genes than particles collected at clean locations. Also, particles to which microorganisms from the environment adhered elicited a strong immune response. From all particles tested, the most contaminated particles originated from the environment. Particles with biofilms - that contained algae and potential pathogens – gave a stronger immune response in the tested cell culture model. For particles of 10 and 90 µm a strong immune response was observed, but this was not the case for a far smaller particle size of 1 µm. Follow-up research is needed with a controlled exposure in the lab for a fixed period of time. It is likewise necessary to further test exposure to different particles and the pathogens these carry from the environment.

Worrying results

In short, these initial results of the effect of micro-and nanoplastics in the body indicate how urgent and relevant further research is. In many cases, it is still difficult to translate the results to people. That is mainly because a good risk assessment does not exist yet. Toxicologists are working on a risk assessment model so that the risk of plastic intake via food, air or water can be precisely analysed. Nevertheless, despite the fact that there is still a lot of uncertainty in the interpretation of the initial laboratory results, the outcomes are worrying. That is also due to the fact that the amount of small particles in the living environment continues to increase. And because, for example, research into particulate matter, which contains plastic particles, reveals that small particles enter our body and can lead to health effects there.

It is clear that nano- and microplastics can undoubtedly have a negative influence on human health, but to what extent and in which situations that applies is difficult to establish because the risk assessment is still missing. The breakthrough projects will be continued in the new public-private consortium MOMENTUM. However, further follow-up research is necessary to make the actual health risks and possible solutions more tangible. The results included in this article are those that the researchers presented during the symposium organised by MOMENTUM and ZonMw on 4 November 2021. You can read more about the research in our webpage about the health effects of microplastics.

Would you like to receive more information about microplastics and health? Then please contact us via MicroplasticsHealth@zonmw.nl.

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news-7994 Tue, 09 Nov 2021 15:03:41 +0100 Jeroen Geurts new Rector Magnificus VU Amsterdam https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/jeroen-geurts-new-rector-magnificus-vu-amsterdam-1/ Prof. dr. Dr Jeroen Geurts will be appointed Rector Magnificus of the VU University in Amsterdam with effect from 15 January 2022. Jeroen Geurts was chair of ZonMw from January 2017 and member of the board of NWO. The board and employees of ZonMw and NWO warmly congratulate him on his appointment. In the coming period, Jeroen Geurts will finalise his work at ZonMw and NWO and hand it over to Vice-Chairman Prof. Dr. Huib Pols, who will fullfill the position of acting chair until a new chair is appointed.

Commitment to health research innovation

ZonMw is deeply indebted to Jeroen Geurts for his great and inspiring efforts. Jeroen Geurts has committed to innovating health research with spearheads such as team science, interdisciplinarity, more consortium funding and recognizing and rewards. The ambitious new policy plan 2020-2024 of ZonMw was also drawn up under his chairmanship. “I have worked with great enthusiasm, together with ZonMw and NWO, for a new impetus in financing scientific research and a more inclusive and sustainable way of financing,” says Jeroen Geurts. Soon Jeroen Geurts will look back on his term as board member in an extensive interview.

news-7907 Wed, 27 Oct 2021 11:39:32 +0200 26 projects to stimulate open science https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/26-projects-to-stimulate-open-science/ Twenty-six projects related to open science are set to receive a financial stimulus of up to 50,000 euros. It concerns projects that focus on innovative ways of (open) publishing, sharing FAIR data as well as software, or projects that help drive the culture change needed to achieve open science. ‘The Open Science Fund is an important next step in recognising and valuing open research practices,’ says Caroline Visser, who is responsible for open science on NWO’s Executive Board. The awarded projects cover a broad range of new open science practices. Some focus on developing new tools and software for data visualisation, such as the Raincloudplots 2.0 project by professor Rogier Kievit (Radboud University) or on anonymising open text data, as in the project by Dr Bennett Kleinberg (Tilburg University). Other projects aim to promote the interoperability of data by developing standards, as Dr Rombert Stapel (KNAW/IISG) will do in his CLAIR-HD project for the discipline of historical demography. Yet another category aims to promote the culture change needed for open science. The Open Science Escape Room by Dr Anita Eerland (Radboud University) introduces researchers to the benefits and challenges of open science in a playful way.

More information

  • An overview of all projects is available here