Universiteit Leiden

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VICI for Mario van der Stelt

For his ground-breaking chemical biological research, a VICI-grant has been awarded to Mario van der Stelt, professor of Molecular physiology at Leiden University. In a new research line, he aims to discover binding sites for new medicines against inflammations in the brain.

Inhibitors in our brains

In his research, Van der Stelt strives for a better knowledge of the functioning of the brain on a molecular level, especially the endocannabinoid system. This system consists of endocannabinoids, neurotransmitters that bind to certain receptor proteins. Van der Stelt studies how this system influences the communication between nerve cells.

Van der Stelt hopes to pave new ways within his research area. ‘We will try to develop inhibitors against enzymes that are responsible for the production of endocannabinoids in selected cell types. Our brains consist of different types of cells, each with their own roles, such as neurones, astrocytes and microglia. Also, the different brain areas all have their own functions. We want to make sure that our inhibitors are active in only one specific cell type, so we can investigate where in our brains which endocannabinoids are exactly responsible for which function.’

New candidate medicines

Van der Stelt hopes that his new research will provide a better knowledge of the brains on a molecular level. ‘Eventually, we hope to prove that certain proteins are involved in inflammation reaction in the brain. This could lead to new candidate medicines for neuroinflammatory conditions, such as MS and Alzheimer’s.’

Strict selection

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) awards VICI grants to senior researchers who have proven themselves in their research area. They each receive 1,5 million euros to develop their own research lines in 5 years.

In 2018, more than 230 proposals were submitted, of which the NWO has honoured 35. Mario van der Stelt describes the procedure. ‘First, you have to submit a proposal, which is reviewed by a committee. Submitters of the most promising proposals are then asked to write a complete proposal. These are presented to five foreign referents. Subsequently, appliers get the opportunity to respond to the advice from referents. Eventually, the applications, the commentaries of the referents and the defence are presented to the same committee, which will invite a number of candidates for an interview. On the basis of the reports and the interview, the committee will advise the board of NWO about the honorary applications.’