The Dutch Research Council (NWO) gives researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate the opportunity to further develop their ideas for a period of three years. Every year, the NWO awards a number of Veni, Vidi and Vici grants. Veni is a funding instrument from the NWO Talent Programme. This year, 188 Veni grants were awarded to promising researchers from all fields of science. 22 Veni grants went to scientists from Utrecht, of which 20 to Utrecht University (including Science, Humanities and Geosciences) and UMC Utrecht and two to the Princess Máxima Center. Sjors Middelkamp and Inge van der Werf, who did their PhD research in the Van Boxtel group, are the lucky ones.
Honored and excited
Inge responds from the US: ‘I am honored and excited to receive the Veni grant. It is not only a recognition of my work to date, but also an incredible opportunity to continue my passion for research. My mission is clear, I want to understand why children can develop cancer, and leukemia in particular. Research into fundamental questions about blood production is of crucial importance in this respect. As a researcher, a personal grant is very important for the progress of my career. Receiving the Veni grant is therefore something for which I am extremely grateful. I have now started a new chapter, I work at UC San Diego in the United States. From San Diego I will work on this project in collaboration with Ruben, the team and two very talented PhD students, Lucca Derks and Anaïs van Leeuwen.’
From the Netherlands, Sjors says: ‘I am extremely honored that I have been awarded the Veni grant. This grant will help me to further investigate how damage to DNA occurs in healthy cells and how this can cause cancer. I am very grateful to everyone who helped, especially Ruben van Boxtel and all the people in his lab. I will carry out the research in collaboration with Ruben's group and Hugo Snippert's lab at UMC Utrecht, where I now work.’
Research lines with a Veni grant
Dissecting the carcinogenic potential of stem cell differentiation by single-cell whole genome sequencing
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.
Characterizing early life hematopoiesis: tracing the first steps towards malignancy
Inge van der Werf
Hematopoietic stem cells are believed to play a crucial role in the generation of all blood cells throughout life. However, the exact mechanism of blood production remains poorly understood, particularly when it comes to studying the process in humans. This project aims to fill this gap in knowledge by using naturally occurring DNA mutations to recognize and trace hematopoietic cells responsible for blood production in early life. This cutting-edge approach will provide unique and unprecedented insights into the behavior of hematopoietic cells during blood production, which will be crucial to understanding leukemia's biology in future studies.