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Four bold Faculty of Science researchers receive NWO XS grants

Four scientists from the Faculty of Science will receive a grant of up to 50,000 euros in the Open Competition Domain Science - XS from science financier NWO. This category emphatically strives to encourage curiosity-driven and bold research involving a relatively quick analysis of a promising idea. As a pilot, applicants are also an assessor in the XS assessment process.

The four projects awarded funding within Leiden University are: 

Dengue virus disease on a chip for novel biomarker discovery and drug screening

Yasmine Abouleila, Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research

In the tropics, 50 million people get infected every year with the deadly Dengue virus. 500 thousand of them develop hemorrhagic shock syndrome, an often-deadly condition with no cure. With climate change, this disease will become a major global issue. We lack animal models for this disease and thus no treatment has been developed. In this project, we aim to develop the first organ-on-a-chip model for dengue fever and its accompanying hemorrhagic shock syndrome, which will serve as a platform for novel biomarker discovery, and more targeted treatments.

Targeted biomolecule production for therapeutic use

Gabriel Forn Cuni, Institute for Biology Leiden

Drug targeting is a main challenge for the pharmaceutical industry: how do we guide a drug to its target while minimizing secondary effects? Our innovative solution is not to target drug delivery, but to produce drugs specifically at the target location. To do so, we will bioengineer a system based on harmless fungal spores as a vehicle to produce biomolecules directly at the intended target site via precise genetic regulation. As a proof-of-concept, we will apply this system to treat tuberculosis in an animal model by producing antibiotics directly at the site of infection.

Spreading the Fire: Why is Pyroptotic Cell Death Contagious?

Monica Varela Alvarez, Institute for Biology Leiden

Pyroptotic cell death is involved in many infectious and non-infectious life-threatening diseases. A common feature among these diseases is that, due to the aggressiveness of the inflammatory reaction produced around pyroptotic cells, they are all difficult to treat. Our observations suggest that cells around pyroptotic cells are more prone to die, yet there is currently no evidence for `contagious pyroptosis´. This project aims to discover the mechanism behind this chain reaction. This research could transform our understanding of how neighbouring cells respond to pyroptotic cell death and could shed light on new strategies for the treatment of inflammatory diseases.

Developing synthetic foldamers into membrane channels

Sander Wezenberg, Leiden Institute of Chemistry

The transport of ions and molecules through the cell membrane is vital to many biological processes. This transport is mediated by membrane-spanning protein channels or carriers. The malfunctioning of these proteins has been recognized as the cause of serious illnesses, such as cystic fibrosis, which is related to a faulty chloride channel. In this project, the researchers will synthesize a new type of helical foldamer and explore its use as a chloride-selective channel. Such an artificial transport system might some day take over the function of defective proteins and therefore, holds potential for therapeutic application.

Source: NWO

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