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Veni grants for 25 Leiden researchers

From molecular ping-pong to cassava in the Amazon, and from extraterrestrial life to special antibodies. Twenty-five researchers from Leiden University have been awarded a Veni grant from the NWO. A grant of up to 250,000 euros will give them the opportunity to further elaborate their own ideas over a period of three years.

Every year, the Dutch Research Council (NWO) awards its Veni grants. These, together with the Vidi and Vici grants, form the NWO’s Innovational Research Incentives Scheme. The Veni grant is aimed at outstanding researchers who have recently obtained their PhD. NWO selects Veni laureates on the basis of the following criteria: quality of the researcher, innovative character of the research, expected academic impact of the research proposal and possibilities of knowledge utilisation. 

This year 1,151 researchers submitted an application; 166 of them have been awarded a Veni. Twenty-five (14%) of these go to researchers from Leiden University, including the Faculty of Medicine/LUMC. See below for a brief description of the research projects.

Age-related clonal hematopoiesis: the good and the bad of clonally expanding immune subsets

Erik van den Akker - LUMC

Virtually all exceptionally old individuals have an early form of blood cancer, but in contrast to middle-aged individuals, they do not seem to suffer from any adverse effects. What is their secret? This study will investigate the protective mechanisms that make the extreme old capable to withstand the test of time;

Life around a radio star

Joseph Callingham – Faculty of Science

Observatory astronomers can now easily identify planets outside our Solar System. However, it remains a mystery if such planets can host life. This project will conduct a radio survey of nearby stars to discover the type of space weather such planets experience, and whether those conditions allow such planets to be habitable.

Do dark matter particles interact with each other?

Camila Correa – Faculty of Science

The nature of dark matter is a great unsolved mystery. Camila Correa’s research project will use state-of-the-art simulations to analyse the signatures of forces between dark matter particles on galaxies colliding, filling a major gap in our understanding of dark matter.

A telling story: how children develop as storytellers and mindreaders

Max van Duijn – Faculty of Science

Stories help us ‘mindread’ others: imagining how the world looks from their perspective. This project will collect and analyse 500+ stories told by children of different ages. It will thus reveal connections between the development of children’s competence as storytellers and their ability to understand and empathise with the inner lives of others.

Through the eyes of AI: safe and optimal integration of Artificial Intelligence in Radiology

Irene Hernandez-Giron - LUMC

Artificial intelligence (AI) will shift the Radiology paradigm, supporting and even replacing radiologists in their diagnostic tasks. There is a risk that these technologies will be applied without proper knowledge in users. This research will create a framework to validate and safely integrate AI in the clinical workflow.

Treatment of older patients with advanced melanoma - towards personalised medicine

Nienke de Glas – LUMC

Older patients with cancer are rarely included in immunotherapy trials, leaving oncologists with limited knowledge to make evidence-based treatment decisions. In this project, clinical, geriatric and immunological data will be generated in order to develop a prognostic model for the clinical benefit of immunotherapy in older patients with melanoma.

Deciphering and targeting pathogenic IgG4 responses 

Maartje Huijbers – LUMC

IgG4 is a peculiar antibody. It does not activate inflammatory responses and, in contrast to other antibodies, binds two different antigens. This project will investigate whether the unique properties of IgG4 contribute to the development of IgG4-mediated autoimmune diseases and whether IgG4 immune cells can be therapeutically targeted specifically.

Optimizing exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder

Rianne de Kleine – Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Although exposure therapy is the gold-standard treatment of posttraumatic stress-disorder (PTSD), only half of the patients adequately benefit from it. Based on recent insights into the mechanisms of extinction, this project will examine strategies and techniques to improve exposure treatment outcome in PTSD.

Matriarchal Islam: Gendering Sharia in the Indian Ocean World

Mahmood Kooriadathodi – Faculty of Humanities

Islam is generally interpreted as a patriarchal religion. This presupposition comes from reading the religion through a male-dominant perspective alone. This project will turn to the Indian Ocean Islam for it offers a different understanding of several connected matriarchal Muslim communities, which all should be considered as part of the historical and human experiences of the Sharia.

Who owes what to future generations?

Tim Meijers – Faculty of Humanities

Many threats to the well-being of future generations, such as climate change, are global in nature. Tackling them requires global cooperation. This project will develop an approach to the fair allocation of the costs that come with protecting future people, taking existing global inequalities into account.

Jumpstarting life on terrestrial planets

Melissa McClure – Faculty of Science

Interstellar ices hold the initial organic molecular ingredients of life. The researchers will trace the evolution of ice chemistry as stars form, to determine the complexity of the molecules that are delivered to forming planets.

Righting and Rewriting History: Recovering and Analyzing Manuscript Archives Destroyed During World War II

Krista Murchison – Faculty Faculty of Humanities

During World War II, thousands of irreplaceable manuscripts were destroyed. These destroyed collections, despite their enduring importance, remain largely ignored in conceptualizations of the archive. This project will advance ongoing discussions of the ‘immaterial archive’ and its social and historical significance by digitally recreating destroyed archives from four key nations.

Remembering dissent and disillusion in the Arab world

Judith Naeff – Faculty of Humanities

This research project will analyse experimental documentaries and fiction by young Arab makers about the protest movements of the 1970s in the region. The way in which they engage with this past will reveal how they define their position in the dispiriting political context of the 2000s in the region.

Are you sure you didn’t miss something?

Stéphanie van der Pas – Faculty of Science

Do vegetarians live longer because of their diet, or because they smoke less and exercise more? Establishing causality is a problem in many fields when an experiment is impossible. This research will develop new statistical methods to draw more accurate causal conclusions from observational data.

Cattle colours in East Africa

Sara Petrollino – Faculty of Humanities

The languages of cattle herders have incredibly complex expressions to refer to the colours and patterns of animal pelts, but little is known about how cattle colour systems work. This project will investigate the semantic categorisation and the expression of these perceptual domains across three East African languages.

Besieging the biofilm fortress

Bart Pijls - LUMC 

The main problem with infected implants is that microorganisms are organised in a biofilm, a fortress, protecting them against our immune system and antibiotics. Pijls will use non-invasive induction heating to kill the micro-organisms and damage the biofilm fortress walls in order to cure the infection.

Molecular ping-pong to study proteins

Sergii Pud – Faculty of Science

Proteins are the building blocks of life and studying them provides the key to understand life and cure diseases. I will make a new tool for studying protein molecules one by one through engaging them in a game of molecular ping-pong and observing their behaviour in it.

Risk regulation in the European regulatory state: science-based or reputation-induced?

Dovile Rimkutė – Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs

Science-based risk regulation is inconsistent: agencies reach conflicting scientific conclusions when assessing risks to society. This project proposes bureaucratic reputation theory as a novel explanation: conflicting conclusions across agencies result from reputation-induced, strategic responses to reputational threats. The study uses machine learning algorithms to analyse big data published by agencies.

Manioc roots: prehistory of Amazonia seen from the kitchen

Konrad Rybka – Faculty of Humanities

How manioc (cassava), a poisonous root, became the staple of Amazonia and changed the lives of prehistoric Amazonian peoples remains a mystery. By studying the traditional tools used in manioc processing through their indigenous names, museum collections, and ethnographic literature, the researchers will reconstruct their spread and understand its sociocultural consequences.

Challenging the elderly brain

Sophie Schmid – LUMC  

Vascular components contribute significantly to neurodegeneration in the elderly and constitute one of the first changes, long before clinical symptoms become overt. Schmid aims to develop MRI tools suitable for use in a clinical setting to assess the status of the vasculature in the brain in a non-invasive way.

Obstacles for terrorism

Bart Schuurman – Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs

Most people who radicalise never actually become involved in terrorism. But why is this the case? This project will study this under-examined question through a unique comparative analysis that encompasses jihadists as well as right-wing extremists. The results will serve both the academic debate and the prevention of terrorism and radicalisation.

Into the cold: the adaptive role of pyrotechnology among the earliest modern humans in Europe, ca. 45,000–20,000 years ago?

Andrew Sorensen – Faculty of Archaeology

The routine assumption that early modern humans in Europe were regular fire users who produced fire at will has never been tested against the archaeological record. This project will establish the role and forms of pyrotechnology in modern human adaptations to Ice Age middle and northern latitudes.

Nabataean Aramaic: a living language?

Benjamin Suchard – Faculty of Humanities

The ancient people known as the Nabataeans left us thousands of texts. They wrote in Aramaic, the lingua franca of their time. But the Aramaic of their texts was heavily influenced by Arabic. This project will investigate whether Nabataean Aramaic was ever spoken or was only used in writing.

Conquering the tuberculosis fortress

Mónica Varela Àlvarez – Faculty of Science

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is the most lethal airborne disease worldwide. The causative bacteria hide in compact conglomerates of cells that limit the effectiveness of antibiotics and host immune responses. The aim of this project is to develop new therapies able to attack this ‘tuberculosis fortress’ and increase the effectiveness of current anti-tuberculosis therapies. 

Beyond the myth of Westphalia: states, international law and the monopolisation of the right to wage war

Claire Vergerio – Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

States, we are told, have monopolised the legal right to wage war since the seventeenth century and this arrangement has provided some basic stability in international relations. But is this really true? This project will challenge this classic account and open the way for rethinking the contemporary laws of war. Read more.

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