ZonMw tijdlijn People with Disability or Chronic Disease https://www.zonmw.nl/ Het laatste nieuws van de tijdlijn van People with Disability or Chronic Disease en-gb Sun, 22 May 2022 10:23:02 +0200 Sun, 22 May 2022 10:23:02 +0200 TYPO3 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

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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
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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.

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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.’

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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

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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

or

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

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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

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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.

More information

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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.

More information

 

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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

More information

Updated on: February 21th

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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:

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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.

More information

 

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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.

More information

 

 

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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.

More information

> Klik hier voor Nederlands

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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.

>Dit bericht is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

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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.

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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

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news-7897 Tue, 26 Oct 2021 14:31:43 +0200 Gravitation consortium participates in mapping the brain motor cortex region https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/gravitation-consortium-participates-in-mapping-the-brain-motor-cortex-region/ Two co-leaders of the Brainscapes consortium that is funded by NWO’s Gravitation grant, have contributed to successfully map the different cell types of the motor cortex and other cortical areas in the brain. Nature published a special edition with the results of this international BRAIN initiative Cell Census Network. De results showcase how geneticists, bioinformaticians and neuroscientists collaborate with the ultimate aim to develop better treatments for brain diseases. Two co-leaders of Brainscapes, Huib Mansvelder (VU) and Boudewijn Lelieveldt (LUMC) take part in a major international study called the BRAIN initiative Cell Census Network, worth more than 4 billion dollars, of which the goal is to map all brain cells of several species including human. Nature has devoted a special 17-paper issue to describe the first BICCN’s findings covering the motor cortex, including 2 papers to which Mansvelder and Lelieveldt contributed with their specific functional and informatics expertise, respectively. These accomplishments showcase the envisioned collaboration between several Dutch and international institutes to unify the informatics and neuroscience research field for the development of treatment for brain diseases.

Brainscapes

The aim of Brainscapes is to map in detail the biological mechanisms underlying multiple brain disorders ('brainscaping'). Recent genetic discovery studies have provided more insight into the genes involved in brain disorders. The next step is to use this knowledge for gaining mechanistic disease insight, though an extremely complex task to fulfill due to the involvement of many different research fields that all speak their own language.

Brainscapes is therefore dedicated to bring together geneticists, bioinformaticians and neuroscientists to develop novel analytic and experimental tools to study the functional consequences of risk genes on the function of specific cells, their circuits and functional output. This all in the context of brain diseases, ultimately with the identification of novel drug targets.

Neuroscientific contribution

VU scientist Huib Mansvelder and his team, together with neurosurgeons from the VUmc, worked on a study of living neurons from brain tissue donated by patients from neurosurgical operations to treat epilepsy or brain tumors. To typify brain cells, the molecular signature of gene expression was determined for each cell individually. The human brain contains about 86 billion nerve cells and to determine the expression of ten thousand genes or more from each cell individually is an exciting challenge. The study to which Mansvelder and team contributed goes a step further, namely by studying the consequences of gene expression for cell shape and function of the mapped cell types. Mansvelder: “We find that these evolutionarily developed parts of the human brain contain cell types that cannot be seen in mice. The increased molecular diversity in humans is reflected in the diversity in the shape and function of the cells. The more 'human-specific' brain cell types are among the first to disappear in Alzheimer's disease."

Informatics contribution

Where Mansvelder is a pioneer in designing and applying revolutionizing functional methods, Leliveldt is a pioneer in the development of informatics tools. In collaboration with another Brainscapes member from TU Delft, Thomas Höllt, Lelieveldt made a key contribution to the data visualization of a study establishing the relationship between gene, expression, regulation and the DNA 3D structure of 300,000 individual brain cells to create a kind of cellular periodic table. “Our main challenge was displaying very complex data in a way that any hidden information within it can be interpreted more easily ‘as if it were a picture book’”, explains Thomas Höllt of TU Delft.

Brainscapes collaborative efforts

"You can compare this whole special issue a bit to a mission to Mars, where we have been asked to develop a few parts for the rocket. In the grand scheme of things, our contribution is a small one - but it was still a tremendous honor - and now we got to witness the aircraft land," Lelieveldt explains. The impact of this special BICCN issue will be huge in the field of neuroscience, including the research performed within the scope of Brainscapes. The BICCN-related Dutch collaborative efforts are just a small part of Brainscapes. In addition to LUMC, TU Delft and VU, also UMCU Utrecht, Amsterdam UMC, and the Hubrecht institute are actively working together to bridge the gap between genetics and neuroscience. Considering that the start of 10-year Brainscapes project was less than 2 years ago, more extraordinary collaborative efforts with mind-blowing results are definitely expected.

More information

 

 

 

 

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news-7874 Thu, 21 Oct 2021 15:47:02 +0200 Infographic: International Call https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/infographic-international-call/ Within ZonMw, international collaboration is increasingly important. This leads to a large group of Dutch scientists taking part in international Calls for the first time. International calls for proposals however follow a different procedure than the standard ZonMw calls. To explain this we have developed an infographic, which provides insight into the basic steps of an international Call.

If you are planning to join an consortium to submit a (pre)proposal for an international call, or if you’re just curious about the procedure steps of an international call, you can view the infographic here. An animation of this process will also be available soon. Stay tuned!

View the infographic

More information

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news-8100 Tue, 19 Oct 2021 14:45:00 +0200 MOMENTUM: structured research into health effects of microplastics https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/momentum-structured-research-into-health-effects-of-microplastics/ What happens if microplastics enter the human body? Do these accumulate and could that have harmful consequences? The public-private consortium MOMENTUM will investigate these questions in the coming years. Why is research into microplastics so urgent?

Even if the industry were to stop the production of new plastics now, the quantity of microplastics would continue to increase in the coming years. That is because a lot of plastic is already present in the environment, which is still in the process of decomposing into small particles.

Dick Vethaak is a toxicologist at Deltares and co-project leader of MOMENTUM: ‘There is a lot of attention for plastic waste in the environment such as bottles and packaging. However, indoors we are mainly exposed to other plastic particles from polymer paints or textile fibres.’ Plastics often contain a range of additives. For many of these additives, we hardly know how toxic these are. Small plastic particles spread easily: just like the natural fibres of cotton. ‘But plastics scarcely break down and instead decompose into increasingly smaller particles. As a result of this, they accumulate in the environment and in the food chain’, adds Dick.

Collaboration in a consortium MOMENTUM

Universities, institutes and companies are working together in this consortium that is funded by ZonMw, Top Sector Life Sciences & Health, TNO, government ministries and companies. The research builds further upon the 15 one-year breakthrough projects in the programme Microplastics & Health, which ZonMw funded in 2019.

For the next three years, MOMENTUM has a budget of 5.4 million euros available to organise follow-up studies. For ZonMw, participation in the consortium is a logical step; it fits within the ZonMw-wide subject ‘Healthy living environment’. This is a subject ZonMw has recently strengthened its programming efforts.

The design of MOMENTUM

‘We have named the project MOMENTUM because it must be like a train in continuous motion’, says Juliette Legler, Professor of Toxicology at Utrecht University and also co-project leader. ‘It is a project for the long term; a movement from the breakthrough projects towards an infrastructure for first-class research and solutions for the problem of microplastics. Alongside MOMENTUM, the European Commission also currently funds two Horizon 2020 projects at Utrecht University, because this is such a big subject that we cannot tackle it with MOMENTUM alone. There is already international interest.’

It proved to be a challenge to combine the most promising results from the 15 breakthrough projects into a single new project. And to subsequently obtain contributions from the private sector and research organisations. Juliette: ‘We have realised a unique public-private partnership. This is not just a fundamental research project; we are thinking about the future and how we can get rid of the problem of microplastics. But also about applications, solutions and risk assessment.’

Knowledge agenda microplastics provides guidance

In January 2021, ZonMw presented the knowledge agenda ‘What do microplastics do in our body?’ to the state secretary for infrastructure and water Management, Stientje van Veldhoven. Dick was one of the contributors to that agenda: ‘The knowledge agenda constitutes a script and provides recommendations and routes along which we can work the next 10 to 15 years.’

The Netherlands is a trailblazer in research into the health effects of microplastics. Juliette has the following to say on this point: ‘As far as I know, ZonMw is the first research council in the world to have invested in human health effects. ZonMw does not just focus on drugs and therapy, but also on the prevention of disease through environmental factors. The Netherlands has therefore acquired a leading role in this respect.’

What do we know about microplastics and what do we still need to discover?

Researchers compare the smallest plastic particles with nanoparticles. It is known that these can lead to inflammatory responses and DNA damage. In addition, it seems likely that the smaller microplastics, which we are exposed to every day via the air, food and water, pass through the epithelium of the lungs and intestines and are taken up in the blood and brain. These particles can also carry bacteria and viruses with them, which they introduce into the body. Recently, it has been demonstrated that microplastics are present in the placenta of an unborn child with as yet unknown consequences.

Some people already have plastic particles in their body, for example due to the decomposition of plastic prostheses or breast implants. Over the next three years, it will become clearer at which concentrations effects occur and whether these constitute a risk. ‘I hope that in three years’ time, we can make a distinction between the harmful and harmless properties of microplastics. And that means that we will not just bring bad news but solutions as well’, according to a hopeful Juliette.

Research also needed beyond the three-year period

For the time being, MOMENTUM is being funded for three years. But it is already clear that follow-up research will be needed after this period too.

Dick explains: ‘It is not realistic to expect any applications during the first three years. We are mainly working with the private partners to find solutions and to put together an action plan for the next 10 or 15 years. I certainly expect that there will be a new financial injection to continue the research. We cannot burden future generations with our plastic problem. Even if we should conclude in three years’ time that the concentration of plastic particles in our bodies is relatively low, then you still need to think about the consequences several decades from now.’

Communication with the wider public will be a fixed element in MOMENTUM, says Juliette: ‘We want to make it clear what we are doing and how we do research. And that we not only work with researchers, but also with plastic producers, companies developing new techniques and civil society organisations who have an interest in the results of our research. In other words, that it is a real team effort!’

Broader context of microplastics

Microplastics and health is part of the ZonMw-wide subject Healthy living environment. To contribute to human health, ZonMw enables the development and application of knowledge regarding the health effects of the living environment.

More information

> Klik hier voor Nederlands

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news-7833 Mon, 11 Oct 2021 16:42:56 +0200 Joining forces for COVID-19 vaccination in patients with a compromised immune system https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/joining-forces-for-covid-19-vaccination-in-patients-with-a-compromised-immune-system/ In the beginning of 2021, the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) launched eight different studies on the effects of COVID-19 vaccinations in immune compromised patients. Various knowledge partners are currently working in consortia on these studies. To ensure fast and effective implementation of the research results, ZonMw is working together with the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) and informs the Health Council of the Netherlands. news-7826 Fri, 08 Oct 2021 15:40:16 +0200 24 Starting science talents go to top foreign institutions thanks to Rubicon https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/24-starting-science-talents-go-to-top-foreign-institutions-thanks-to-rubicon/ 24 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. They investigate, amongst others, why the gender pay gap has stopped decreasing and the effect of synthetic chemicals on biodiversity. Another researcher tests whether social-cognitive processes, defender-/victim characteristics and norms contribute to successful defending against bullying.

Read the full news article on the NWO website.

The following projects will contribute to medical science and healthcare innovation:

Fishing for the causes of neurodegeneration

D.E.M. de Bakker MSc (Dennis), Utrecht University -> Germany -> Leibniz Institute on Ageing, Jena -> 24 months

Biologists will study neurodegeneration in killifish, the only species known to lose neurons with ageing like humans. Through comparing, cutting and pasting in fish DNA, the researchers hope to identify how variations in DNA cause neurodegeneration in fish and humans.

Manipulating how bone becomes hard

Dr. S.J.P. Callens (Sebastien), TU Delft -> United Kingdom -> Imperial College London -> 24 months

It is still not entirely clear how bone mineralization depends on environmental factors. The researcher will use advanced techniques to study the role of geometry on this process, and how this could be leveraged to spatiotemporally manipulate mineralization in biomaterials.

The effect of dorsal root ganglion stimulation on the firing pattern of nerve cells in the spinal cord and treatment of neuropathic pain

Dr. G. Franken (Glenn), Maastricht University Medical Centre (MUMC+) -> United Kingdom -> King’s College London -> 12 months

The Netherlands Chronic neuropathic pain is often induced by a disturbed firing pattern of the nerve cells in the spinal cord, which therefore constantly send pain signals to the brain. We will investigate if electrical stimulation of the dorsal root ganglion can decrease this disturbed firing pattern and treat chronic neuropathic pain.

How does the brain predict the future from the past?

M. Fritsche PhD (Mats), Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour -> United Kingdom -> Oxford University -> 24 months

When making decisions, the brain not only relies on information from the senses, but also on its own predictions. Here, the researchers will measure and manipulate the neurotransmitter dopamine in mice to understand how the brain forms such predictions.

Does the wonder drug fulfill its promises in diabetics with heart failure?

E.L. Fu BSc (Edouard), Leiden University Medical Center -> United States of America, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Department of Medicine, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics -> 24 months

SGLT2 inhibitors are a breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes and heart failure. The first investigations do not paint the whole picture. Therefore, the researcher will use big data to investigate how effective and safe these medications are in practice.

In or out of touch with yourself: basic mechanisms of self-other-distinction

Dr. R Kaldewaij (Reinoud), Radboud University -> Sweden -> Centre for Social and Affective Neuroscience, Linköping University -> 24 months

How does touch help us with experiencing our body as our own? Using brain and spinal cord imaging, this study investigates the difference between being touched by ourselves and by someone else - and how ketamine changes this.

Uncovering the logistics of molecular traffic in the human brain during health and disease

Dr. F.W. Lindhout (Feline), University of Utrecht -> United Kingdom -> MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), Cambridge -> 24 months

Perturbed logistics of molecular traffic in brain cells cause neurological disease. Today’s scientific insights on these processes mainly come from animal research, but is this translatable to humans? Scientists will now investigate this timely question using human lab-grown brain tissues.

Boosting De novo NAD+ synthesis to promote hepatic health

Dr. Y.J. Liu (Yasmine), University of Amsterdam -> Switzerland -> Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) -> 24 months

Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+ ) is vital to hepatic health, but itslevels decline in fatty liver diseases. The researchers discovered that inhibiting ACMSD boosts NAD+ biosynthesis in the liver. They will investigate whether inhibiting ACMSD can manage these diseases.

Controlling cell fate decisions in homeostasis and disease

Dr. K. Lõhmussaar (Kadi), Hubrecht Institute (KNAW), University of Utrecht -> Denmark -> University of Copenhagen, Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) -> 24 months

During intestinal injury, surviving cells acquire a fetal-like identity to repair the damage. In order to understand how to improve tissue regeneration, the researchers are interested to study how the faith of a cell is decided in this process.

How to silence an X chromosome?

J.C.K. Man PhD (Joyce), Amsterdam UMC (AMC location) -> Germany -> European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), Heidelberg -> 24 months

How female cells shut down one of their two X chromosomes has been a mystery for decades. Researchers have identified a key player in X-chromosome inactivation called SPEN. This project will elucidate SPEN’s mechanism of action in X chromosome-wide silencing.

Energy-burning fat cells originating from smooth muscle cells

Dr. J.M.E. Tan (Jospehine), University of Amsterdam -> United States -> Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania -> 24 months

There are two types of fat cells: those storing energy and those burning energy. Generating more “energyburning” fat cells can aid the fight against obesity. The researcher will study mechanisms through which smooth muscle cells transition into energy-burning fat cells.

Melancholy moods: ancient and medieval predecessors of depression

Dr. R.W. Vinkesteijn (Robert), Leiden University -> Germany -> Humboldt-Universität, Berlin -> 18 months

Depression is not merely a contemporary problem. Ancient and medieval philosophers and scientists extensively studied its predecessor, melancholia. What can we learn from their studies in order to find better ways of dealing with our contemporary problem?

Resetting the heart's nervous system

V.Y.H. van Weperen MD (Valerie), Utrecht University -> United States of America -> University of California, Los Angeles, Cardiac Arrhythmia Center -> 24 months

Heart disease disturbs the heart's nervous system, which predisposes to dangerous heart rhythms. This study will explore how, in heart diseases not due to blocked arteries, nervous system disturbances contribute to these dangerous rhythms and how this can be treated.

Out of my phase! Protein aggregation in ALS pathogenesis

Dr. V.I. Wiersma (Vera), Amsterdam UMC (AMC location) -> Switzerland -> University of Zurich -> 24 months

Cells dynamically concentrate proteins in liquid droplets. These droplets are handy, but possibly also risky, as they can change into solid protein clumps. The researcher studies the liquid-to-solid phase transition of the ALS-protein TDP-43 in cultured human brain cells.

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news-7793 Mon, 04 Oct 2021 14:35:56 +0200 FAIR metadata about the COVID-19-projects available on COVID-19 Data Portal of Health-RI https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/fair-metadata-about-the-covid-19-projects-available-on-covid-19-data-portal-of-health-ri-1/ On October 5, Health-RI will demonstrate the COVID-19 Data Portal, which was developed with co-funding from the ZonMw COVID-19 research programme. The portal facilitates researchers to search, find and analyse information, and to request data according to the associated license, and governance. The portal exposes the information about COVID-19 research projects that is provided through COVID-19 specific FAIR metadata. ZonMw’s COVID-19 projects that provided these metadata can thereby be found on the portal.

Demonstration of the COVID-19 Data Portal

The COVID-19 Data Portal will be demonstrated during the Health-RI conference on the occasion of the start of the National Growth Fund (Groeifonds in Dutch). This funding powers Health-RI to accelerate the work on a national health data infrastructure. For ZonMw, this will create an important opportunity to further enhance the reusability of data (and other outputs) from its research projects. For science and society as a whole, it will improve the range of resources that become available for future research, innovation, and policymaking.

Workflow to FAIRify COVID-19 data

The significant impact of corona urged us to develop together with GO FAIR Foundation, DTL and Health-RI a workflow, tools and a data portal to facilitate COVID-19 researchers to produce FAIR data, i.e. data that are findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. The development of these FAIR data services in the COVID-19 programme is in its final phase.

As a result, we now have COVID-19 specific metadata-for-machines (M4M) templates available. These are M4M forms that researchers can use to describe their research projects and databases in a standardised way. The information (metadata) that is provided by researchers in this way, is ‘machine readable’. This means that a computer (‘machine’) can find, understand and use the information. Data become more FAIR when they are accompanied by such machine readable metadata.

The COVID-19 Data Portal that Health-RI developed, exposes the metadata. The machine readable metadata thereby become available as ‘human readable’ information as well. Irrespective of the institute where each project's data is stored, the data portal facilitates for anyone who is interested to find the information about the COVID-19 projects and the data.

Researchers and data stewards are involved

A special feature of FAIR metadata-for-machines (M4M) templates, is that they capture the information about the data in a standardised way, making use of topics and vocabularies (language) that are commonly used within the research community. We therefore organised a number of workshops with the COVID-19 researchers and their data stewards to choose and agree on these elements. GO FAIR Foundation used this input from the research community to develop COVID-19 M4M templates that are well fit to describe the COVID-19 projects and datasets.

What can be done with the metadata that thus becomes available?

The information that is derived from the metadata and exposed on the COVID-19 Data Portal is open for anyone who is interested. Researchers, innovators, professionals and policy makers can benefit from it for their activities. The standardised descriptions, using terms that are meaningful for the COVID-19 research area, allows them to easily find, analyse and compare the information. Furthermore, someone who is interested the use a dataset that is described on the portal, can send a request through the portal. Data become available according to the associated license, and governance defined per dataset.

Collaboration

This COVID-19 Data Portal is a collaboration of HEALTH-RI, GO FAIR Foundation and ZonMw. Through this, we enable reuse of data to contribute to future innovations in health and health research. At present. the Data Portal exposes COVID-19 research. ZonMw will continue to develop community specific M4M templates, resulting in information on the data portal. Information about antimicrobial resistance and infectious diseases will follow soon, as well as other topics in the near future.

More information

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news-7668 Tue, 07 Sep 2021 10:03:00 +0200 More than 80% of publications funded by NWO and ZonMw Open Access https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/more-than-80-of-publications-funded-by-nwo-and-zonmw-open-access/ In 2020, 85% of the publications resulting from NWO funded research were Open Access. For ZonMw, this percentage is 83%. These are the findings from the biennial Open Access Monitor carried out by CWTS at the request from NWO. NWO and ZonMw are strongly committed to the transition to Open Science. Since the introduction of NWO's Open access policy in 2009, great progress has been made. NWO and ZonMw continue to strive for 100% Open access to publications and for research data to be shared according to the maxim “as open as possible as, closed as necessary”.

The main findings of the CWTS-report are:

  • Of the articles published in 2020 arising from NWO funding, 85% are openly accessible: either through the publisher's platforms (gold route) or through a repository (green route). For ZonMw this figure is 83%. That’s an increase of 17% and 23% respectively, since the previous monitor in 2018.
  • The proportion of publications in full gold journals as well as the number of publications in hybrid journals is increasing. The latter as a result of the VSNU's successful Open access agreements with large and medium-sized publishers.
  • In terms of the overall Open access score, there are no major differences between universities. Between disciplines, however, there are differences in the preferred routes. Researchers in the natural sciences tend to choose the green route more often. In the biomedical sciences, publishing in full gold open access is more common.

Caroline Visser, responsible for Open Science in NWO’s  Executive Board of NWO: "It is fantastic that 85% of the research funded by NWO is now openly available. Open Science leads to increased findability and visibility of research results and therefore to more impact, both in science and society. In collaboration with the Dutch universities and medical centers, we have achieved a lot and although - as often - the last steps may be the most difficult, we continue to strive for 100%. And that is realistic. After all, sharing an article via a repository is always an option. We are also going to put more effort into monitoring the compliance with our Open access requirements".  

“As research funders, Open Access is important to us,” adds Jeroen Geurts, Chair of the board of ZonMw and member of the board of NWO, “because it increases the impact of research, improves quality due to transparency, and promotes international collaboration. That is why we set requirements for the research we fund. But we are also taking steps to help researchers do this. That is why, on 1 April of this year, NWO and ZonMw became members of Europe PMC (PubMed Central), an Open Science platform that maintains a worldwide collection of scientific articles and other research results. Researchers from NWO and ZonMw-funded research in the field of life and medical sciences can now share their publications with a worldwide audience in one central place. This membership of Europe PMC is the next step towards 100% Open Access publishing”.

Open Science is the movement that stands for research practices that are more open and participatory, wherein publications, data, software and other forms of scientific information are shared at the earliest possible stage and made openly available for reuse. Open Science leads to more impact, both on science and on society. NWO and ZonMw believe that publicly funded research should be openly available and therefore actively contribute to the transition to Open Science. In that context, they both joined cOAlition S in 2019, a consortium of international research funders with the aim to accelerate the transition to 100% Open Access. NWO's Plan S-based Open Access policy entered into effect as of January 1, 2021.

More information

 

 

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news-7605 Thu, 12 Aug 2021 09:00:00 +0200 Challenge for Create2Solve can now be submitted! https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/challenge-for-create2solve-can-now-be-submitted/ ZonMw invites industry, research institutions and legislative bodies to formulate a challenge for Phase 0 of the call for proposals Create2Solve. In the initiative Create2Solve, the challenges from industry with animal-free innovations take centre stage. In the following phase, knowledge institutions and private partners will work on a project to come up with a solution fot the challenges. While the pharmaceutical, medical technologies, chemical, cosmetics and food industries are increasingly seeking solutions to improve, for example, their prediction of clinical efficacy and/or risk and safety assessments without the use of animals, the solutions are still insufficient. These organizations can now submit challenges for which they wish to develop an animal-free solution until 6 January 2022. Subsequently, the parties concerned will come together in a matchmaking meeting this autumn so that afterwards, they can formulate the challenges together and turn them into a call for proposals. With this approach, ZonMw encourages the development of animal-free innovations with impact that must lead to marketable methods, models and/or services.

The phases of Create2Solve

Create2Solve consists of three phases. Phase 0 has now started:

•    Phase 0: ‘Request for Challenges’

Industry, legislative bodies and research institutions submit challenges aimed at solving current problems so that innovations can be realised in an animal-free manner. By doing this, they request development of a animal-free solution to a problem, for which currently animal models are insufficient and no fitting alternatives are present. Two challenges will be selected and will result in a call for proposals.

•    Phase 1: ‘Proof-of-concept projects’

Knowledge institutions, together with small and medium enterprises (SMEs), can submit a proposal for a proof-of-concept project for animal-free solutions for the challenges. The committee of experts will select a maximum of three projects per challenge. These will start in Phase 1 and have a duration of eight months.

•    Phase 2: ‘Elaboration solution – research projects’

Two selected proof-of-concept projects, one per challenge, will further develop their animal-free innovation into a prototype. The duration of the research project is four to five years.

Funding and duration

The funding for Create2Solve is made available by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Dutch Research Council and the Dutch Society for the Replacement of Animal Testing. For each proof-of-concept project, a maximum budget of € 100,000 is available for a period of eight months. For the research projects, a maximum budget of € 900,000 is available per project for a maximum period of five years.

More information

With the call for proposals Create2Solve, which is part of the programme ‘More Knowledge with Fewer Animals’, ZonMw is organising demand-driven research into animal-free innovations.

•    Request for Challenges
•    Create2Solve is an initiative of the programme More Knowledge with Fewer Animals

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news-7560 Wed, 28 Jul 2021 16:10:00 +0200 Call for grant applications ‘Action research on dementia care in the Dutch Caribbean’ open for submission https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/call-for-grant-applications-action-research-on-dementia-care-in-the-dutch-caribbean-open-for-submi/ The call for grant applications ‘Action research on dementia care in the Dutch Caribbean’ has been opened at the ZonMw website. The deadline for submission is 21 september 2021, at 14.00 The call for grant applications focuses on dementia care in the Dutch Caribbean. The research must focus on developing and using knowledge to provide sustainable solutions for dementia care that are relevant to formal and informal healthcare practice, people living with dementia and their loved ones. There should be an alignment with existing local initiatives for dementia care and dementia support in the region.

Who can apply for a grant

ZonMw invites a yet-to-be-formed partnership to submit an application. The partnership will involve relevant parties within dementia care in the Dutch Caribbean. In this grant round, funding can be requested for action research in the field of dementia. Action research involves both research and implementation. Close collaboration is required between practitioners, people with dementia and their loved ones, informal carers, government and research.

Budget and deadline

For this grant round, €250,000 is available. One project will be approved. The closing date for applications is 21 September 2021, at 14.00.

More information

If you have any questions about the procedure or substantive questions, you can e-mail dementie@zonmw.nl or contact Marjolein Scholten (+31 70 3495335) or Sophie Habets (+31 70 3495086).

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news-7523 Mon, 19 Jul 2021 09:46:33 +0200 NWO launches new NWA call about acceptance of animal-free models https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/nwo-launches-new-nwa-call-about-acceptance-of-animal-free-models/ How can we encourage the acceptance and implementation of existing animal-free models? This is the key question in the new call published by the Dutch Research Agenda (NWA). Almost 2.9 million euros is being made available in this call for research by broad consortia of researchers and civil society partners. ZonMw is realising this Call for proposals in collaboration with NWO. Every day, people are exposed to numerous chemical substances which occur in products such as drugs and cosmetics and in the environment. A thorough safety assessment of a substance is necessary to protect people against its possible dangers.

Use of experimental animals is facing increasing criticism

Animal experiments are still frequently used for such assessments. However, this use of experimental animals is facing increasing criticism from both a societal and scientific viewpoint. Reasons for this include animal welfare and the translatability of the results from animals to humans. Several parties are committed to accelerating the transition to animal-free models for the safety assessment of substances.

Many animal-free models already exist. Yet despite this, the widespread use of animal-free models remains limited. Numerous parties from different domains are involved in this theme, such as society, science, legislation and industry. Each of these parties has its own motives, convictions and interests. The acceptance and implementation of animal-free models therefore require additional effort, flexibility and trust. By inviting all these parties to participate in consortia, we encourage the use of existing animal-free models for a more reliable prediction of the effects on human health.

More information about the Call 'Acceptance animal free models'

 

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news-7495 Wed, 14 Jul 2021 09:14:00 +0200 78 researchers receive NWO-Vidi grant worth 800,000 euros https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/78-researchers-receive-nwo-vidi-grant-worth-800000-euros/ The Dutch Research Council has awarded 78 experienced researchers a Vidi grant worth 800,000 euros. 15 of these fall under the ZonMw field of activity. 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 the motivation to maintain positive self-views distort memory, compromising the quality of financial decisions. The Vidi will also help researchers study the interactions between respiratory viruses and implications for vaccination policies. Another research will focus on the safety of bridges, based on satellite data.

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.
A total of 402 researchers submitted an admissible research project for funding during this Vidi funding round. Seventy-eight of these have now received grants. That amounts to an award rate of 19%. See the online list of awarded grants for the 2020 round which contains the names of all of the laureates and brief summaries of their research projects

More information

 

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news-7487 Fri, 09 Jul 2021 13:37:15 +0200 Follow-up of the InSight programme gives new impetus to scientific research https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/follow-up-of-the-insight-programme-gives-new-impetus-to-scientific-research/ The InSight (InZicht) programme will be continued in 2021. This means a new impetus for research for persons with visual disabilities. The goal of the InSigt programme is to fund scientific research that benefits persons with visual disabilities. The InSight Foundation (Stichting Inzicht) is responsible for this follow-up. The programme is funded by support foundations associated with Bartiméus and Royal Visio. ZonMw manages the programme.

Grant call

In August 2021, a grant call will be opened. Researchers and care institutions can then submit proposals for research projects.

Impetus for scientific research

The InSight Foundation and ZonMw are pleased that this continuation of InSight will enable them to continue and strengthen the focus on high-quality scientific research undertaken by care and research institutions.

ZonMw and the InSight Foundation will ensure that researchers within the field and beyond are well aware of the research being carried out. Researchers can thus take full advantage from the accumulated knowledge. Finally, the implementation of research results will be developed and strengthened in practice.

Persons with visual disabilities are closely involved in the design and implementation of the research projects.

Priorities

The InSight Foundation has determined the focus and priorities for this follow-up programme, in conjunction with the ZonMw programme Expertisefunctie Zintuiglijk Gehandicapten. The programme builds on the earlier achievements of InSight. The focus is on scientific research that meets practical questions. In this way InSight optimally complements the Expertisefunctie Zintuiglijk Gehandicapten programme, which focuses on practice-oriented research.

Background information

The InSight programme has been in operation since 1998. ZonMw manages the grant calls and will ensure a careful assessment of the research proposals submitted. The assessment comprises the quality, and the relevance, of the proposals, so that the research fits the needs that live in the field.

Information

Dick Houtzager, programme manager, or Rozemarijn Beemster, programme secretary, Inzicht@zonmw.nl, phone +31 70 3495322

 

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news-7480 Thu, 08 Jul 2021 09:04:08 +0200 New planning for Veni rounds announced: uniformity across all domains https://www.zonmw.nl/nl/actueel/nieuws/detail/item/new-planning-for-veni-rounds-announced-uniformity-across-all-domains/ The new planning for the next Veni rounds has been finalised. In 2022, the planning for this NWO Talent Programme will be fully aligned, just as it was prior to the changes that took place last year as a result of the coronavirus crisis and hack at NWO. NWO also intends to introduce more uniformity in its procedures, which is a desire that has been expressed in the field for a long time. The mandatory preproposal phase will therefore apply to the Veni from now on, which is another step towards limiting the pressure during the application procedure. Joint starting date

NWO has carefully considered the best joint starting date for the new rounds in 2022, also taking into account the desire not to create an overlap of rounds or introduce new changes to the current evaluation procedures. The decision about the 2021 Veni for the ENW and ZonMw domains is planned for coming December, for Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) and Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) domains is planned for April next year. NWO realises that the Veni applicants from the ZonMw and ENW science domains will have to wait longer than they had probably hoped.

The new Veni-planning for all domains is as follows:

  • Deadline for the (mandatory) preproposal is Tuesday 6 September 2022
  • Deadline for full proposals is Tuesday 24 January 2023
  • The decision about the Veni proposals for the 2022 round will take place in June 2023.

The cut-off date remains 1 January 2022. This means that the 2022 Veni round is open to researchers who will have obtained their PhD no more than three ago on 1 January 2022. Researchers who obtained their PhD between 1 January and 6 September 2022 are also eligible for this round.

More information

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