Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Netherlands Research School of Chemical Biology

Chemical biology research aims at understanding and manipulating biological processes at the molecular level. Physiological processes that are behind human disease are subject of detailed chemical biology studies with the aim to identify new drug targets, but also leads for drug development or that may become diagnostic tools. At the same time, chemical biology research promises to deliver new concepts for the design and production of new, smart materials, for instance by taking natural systems as a source of inspiration.

Hermen Overkleeft

In collaboration with:

  • Leiden University (UL)
  • Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE)
  • Radboud University Nijmegen (RU)
  • University of Groningen (RUG)

In pursuing their objectives, chemical biology researchers make use of the best of the two worlds, that of chemistry and biology. Chemical tools (enzyme inhibitors, modified metabolic precursors, fluorescent probes, to name a few) are designed and synthesised for biological applications, while at the same time advantage is taken from the tremendous advances in molecular genetics for the modification of genes, gene products and model organisms. As such, chemical biology research is truly interdisciplinary and it is for this reason that chemical biology has developed internationally in the past fifteen years to become a major driving force in furthering fundamental and applied sciences.

Within the Netherlands, chemical biology research has developed into strong local research and education programmes in various institutions, in particular also at the four participating universities of this proposal: UL, TUE, RUG and RU. These four universities have created chemical biology focal areas ('zwaartepunten') which are acknowledged by - and have received funding from - the Government (strengthening of the chemistry focal areas as decided by the 'sectorplan' committee) to appoint new staff members. Chemical biology research at these four universities each has a distinct flavour that together however covers the research field as a whole. For instance, chemical biology research at the UL aims at the development of inhibitors and activity-based probes for biomedical research, and for this purpose a strategic alliance with the Netherlands Cancer Institute has been formed. The TUE focuses the application of supramolecular systems to biomedical technology applications and on chemical biology in relationship to drug discovery. Chemical biology researchers at the RU take biological systems as a source of inspiration to create new functional molecular systems, whereas chemical biology research at the RUG has a strong focus on natural product chemistry, but is also performed in connection with synthetic biology.

With the creation of a national research school on chemical biology we aim to bring together the different, yet related interests and expertise and create a platform in which undergraduate students, graduate students and research staff can meet and interact. For this purpose, local graduate programmes in chemical biology or related disciplines will be connected both conceptually (contents) and logistically (programming) so that undergraduate and graduate students will have the opportunity to participate in chemical biology research and education unique to the participating institutes. In this way undergraduate students will receive complete chemical biology training, much more so than would be possible when studying solely at a local institute. The Master students will be exposed as well to the top in chemical biology research within the Netherlands and will thus be able to optimally choose their possible PhD research programme. PhD researchers and staff in turn will through the Netherlands Research School of Chemical Biology programmes find ways to optimally connect to colleagues with expertise complementary to their own, thereby bringing chemical biology research in the Netherlands to an even more international competitive level.

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