De Veni-ronde 2022 zijn toegekend. 188 wetenschappers hebben maximaal €280.000 ontvangen om de komende drie jaar hun projecten op te starten.

The NWO Veni programme has again rewarded a number of proposals with a nice cash prize. Among the lucky ones is KNCV member Sebastian Beil. We highlight the projects with a focus on chemistry and life sciences. You can find the complete overview here.

Domain Science

Bringing molecules together: Photoredox chemistry squeezed into small pores

Dr. B. Baumgartner (V), Faculteit Bètawetenschappen, Universiteit Utrecht

This research proposal aims to make chemical reactions more energy efficient. Small, confined spaces in materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) will be used to convert CO2 and CH4 into basic chemicals using only sunlight. The researcher plans to translate concepts that help to convert molecules in biological systems like in photosynthesis to MOFs. Experimental setups based on spectroscopy will be developed to study photoreactions on nanosecond timescales (for comparison: an eye blink takes about 300 million nanoseconds) to understand the reaction mechanism and to improve the efficiency of the photoreactions.

Lighting the Way of Drug Discovery: Photochemical Synthesis of Non-Natural Amino Acids

Dr. S.B. Beil (M), Faculty of Science and Engineering, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (KNCV-member)

The photochemical synthesis of non-natural amino acids is a promising approach for drug discovery. Thismethod utilizes visible light to create new amino acids that can be incorporated into proteins or smallmolecules to create new drug candidates with improved properties such as increased stability or specificity.Mild photochemical synthesis of non-natural amino acids also allows for the precise control of their chemicalstructure, which can lead to more selective and effective drug candidates. In this project new non-naturalamino acids will be made with blue light photocatalysis to ensure a supply of these powerful building blocksfor future medicines.

Finding the way in – Identifying entry and cargo release pathways of extracellular vesicles

Dr. T.A.P. Driedonks (M), Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht

Cells in the body communicate with each other by sending and receiving tiny information packages, calledextracellular vesicles (EVs). EVs play a role in various diseases, such as cancer, but can also be used to delivermedicine to diseased cells. We don’t fully understand how cells receive and unpack EVs. This is key inunderstanding how communication via EVs works. I will investigate which proteins in and around cells play arole in the receiving and unpacking of EVs. We can use this information to block disease-related EV uptake,and to more effectively deliver medicine into diseased cells.

Differential effects of acute and chronic stress on the immune system

Dr. L.E. Faught (V), Universiteit Leiden

It is generally accepted that stress, in particular the stress hormone cortisol, has a negative impact on our immune system, thereby causing an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases. However, my recent work suggests that brief periods of stress may actually have a beneficial effect on the immune system. Here I propose to investigate this discrepancy in detail, by studying what dictates the switch between the enhancing and suppressive effects of stress and what molecular mechanisms are involved. A better understanding of these processes may ultimately enable us to prevent or temper the negative effects of stress on our immunity.

Deciphering the Glyco-code of Head and Neck Cancer by Generating a Single Cell Glycomics Workflow

Dr. G.S.M. Lageveen-Kammeijer (V), Faculty of Science and Engineering, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

Our cells are covered with a dense layer of glycans, and when incomplete or incorrect, their structures contribute to the malignant phenotype of cancer cells by promoting proliferation, metastasis, and immunosuppression. In this project, I will decipher and characterize the malignant glyco-code of head and neck cancer by developing an innovative analytical workflow. By using minimal sample amounts (up to single cell), optimize sample preparation strategies and combining this with cutting-edge techniques, I will be able to pinpoint glycomic alterations which eventually can be exploited for personalized prognosis and treatment strategies of head and neck cancer.

Cell Surface RNAs as Therapeutic Targets

Dr. Z. Li (M), Faculteit Bètawetenschappen, Universiteit Utrecht

Catch me if you can, says cell-surface RNA. Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is an important biomolecule with many functions in cells. Recent research suggests the presence of these molecules on the outer surface of living cells. These cell-surface localized RNAs (csRNAs) are challenging molecules to study, because of the lack of tools to detect and identify them. The research will pioneer technology development to understand the functions of csRNAs and demonstrate the therapeutic potential of targeting them.

Dissecting the carcinogenic potential of stem cell differentiation by single-cell whole genome sequencing

Dr. S.H.A. Middelkamp (M), Prinses Maxima Centrum voor Kinderoncologie

Differentiation of stem cells into specialized cells is accompanied by large-scale biological changes in these cells. In this study, new methods will be used to determine how these changes in blood stem cells can cause DNA modifications in these cells. The profiles of the DNA changes in healthy blood cells will be compared with DNA profiles in leukemic cells. In this way it will be determined how DNA changes that arise during stem cell differentiation can contribute to the development of leukaemia. This research will yield new insights in the biological processes that play a role in cancer development.

DNA-coated vesicles with time-varying adhesion to model cell migration

Dr. P.G. Moerman (M), Technische Universiteit Eindhoven

To grow from a shapeless clump into an intact animal, cells must move by pushing each other out of the way. How strong the cells stick together plays an important role in this process, but it is unknown how exactly changes in their stickiness affect their movement. This research will produce an experimental model of fake cells with controllable stickiness to learn about the role of adhesion changes on cell motion. This insight may eventually help develop drugs that can prevent the spreading of cancer cells by targeting the cells’ stickiness.

Lost in Translation: Tracking Noncoding RNAs through Plant Evolution

Dr. M.A. Schon (M), Wageningen Plant Research, Wageningen University & Research

Plants and animals are built from proteins, whose instructions are coded in genes. But not all genes code for proteins. Many “non-coding” genes instead make RNA molecules that control where in the body other genes are used, coordinating development. These unusual genes evolve differently than protein-coding genes, making them difficult to identify. This research proposes a new method for reliably locating non-coding genes in new genomes based on their positions in related genomes. Applied to vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, this project aims to uncover how non-coding genes have shaped the world’s food.

Making oneself at home: How Salmonella hijacks the ubiquitin system to remodel its host cell endocytic architecture and dynamics

Dr. V.M.V. Stévenin (V), Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum

Intracellular bacteria, like Salmonella, are bacteria that enter, reside, and replicate inside the cells of their host. To achieve this, bacteria can hijack intracellular molecular signals to remodel the host cell organization and form a membrane-bound bacterial niche. Ubiquitin is a small protein that allows cells to control their organization. The project interrogates how bacteria manipulate the host ubiquitin signals to reshape their host cell organization. Hence, this research may reveal a new mechanism by which bacteria establish their intracellular replicative niche.

Toegepaste en Technische Wetenschappen (TTW)

Elektronica ontwerpen om sensoren zonder batterijen te laten werken: de weg naar milieuvriendelijke electronica

Dr. H.S. Bindra, Universiteit Twente

A continuously sensing sensor (e.g., in a pacemaker) needs a battery to operate. When it runs out of power, that battery needs to be replaced. It is estimated we will have a trillion sensors in the world by 2030. Regularly replacing a trillion batteries is a waste of resources, harmful to the environment and not always convenient. This project therefore aims to create electronic circuits that will use 100 times less energy than current circuits in sensors. Then sensors could operate without a battery and instead obtain the energy they need for operation e.g., from vibrations, heat, or light.

Het ontwerpen van duurzame chemische processen met kunstmatige intelligentie

Dr. A.M. Schweidtmann, Department of Chemical Engineering, Delft University of Technology

As global chemical industries adapt to become greener there is a substantial need to transform the way that chemical processes are designed. Digitization and artificial intelligence offer new opportunities for the design of sustainable chemical processes. In this project, a new reinforcement learning algorithm is developed. The algorithm interacts with a simulation environment and iteratively learns how to design chemical processes. The research advances state-of-the-art methods by leveraging the power of fundamental engineering knowledge and big data. The developed methods will be implemented in a software prototype to be applied by industrial users.