The alliance of TU/e, WUR, UU and UMC Utrecht has awarded four 50,000-euro grants for research that shapes and facilitates the long-term partnership between the institutions. The four research projects are innovative and multi-disciplinary, and aim to contribute to social transitions in the fields of health, food, energy and sustainability.

The strategic alliance’s mission is to encourage collaboration across the boundaries of scientific disciplines and institutions. In so doing, the knowledge institutions create new opportunities to examine major global issues from different perspectives and to arrive at innovative solutions. The seed money fund was created to support the realisation of that goal. There are three seed money calls each year, and this year a total of 23 researchers from TU/e, WUR, UU and UMC Utrecht received funding for four different research projects. The projects are:

  • More2PICS: Metabolic profiling, modelling & lifestyle interventions in post-ICU-syndrome
  • Converging tissue technologies and algae culture for tissue maturation
  • Building blocks of cell polarity
  • Towards a sustainable economy and society: the second Deep Transition in the Netherlands

More2PICS: Metabolic profiling, modelling & lifestyle interventions in post-ICU-syndrome

This study focuses on an important medical condition: the post-IC syndrome (PICS). Patients discharged from Intensive Care occasionally suffer for years from mental and physical symptoms, such as severe fatigue, increasing dependency and lower quality of life, without a clear underlying cause. The number of patients suffering from the PIC syndrome is also increasing over time. There may be a connection with recent medical developments in Intensive Care, and the increased number of people who survive Intensive Care treatment. However, there is a serious lack of knowledge about this syndrome and the degree to which patients develop it. The study will focus on possible ways to better predict this, and on potential PICS treatments such as nutrition and exercise. The importance of this research is further highlighted by the increase in IC admissions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The researchers will combine their knowledge of working in Intensive Care, together with knowledge of models and possibilities of using them to make prognoses of PICS treatments. This project aims to facilitate collaboration between health care professionals and patient organisations.

Project researchers: Natal van Riel (TUe), Klaske van Norren (WUR), Roos Masereeuw (UU), Arjen Slooter (UMC Utrecht)

Klaske van Norren, WUR: “This project combines specific expertise on nutrition, organ failure, IC-related conditions and techniques for connecting data, in order to develop approaches to a complex problem.”

Converging tissue technologies and algae culture for tissue maturation

In order to replace human organs, such as the heart or liver, without being fully dependent on organ donors, we must be able to produce tissues in laboratories. This project will study how algae production may contribute to that goal. The main challenge in the production and maintenance of fabricated mammalian tissues lies in maintaining the correct level of oxygen. Algae produce oxygen, and they have been proven suitable for 3D-printing. It is also possible to control the oxygen level in the production of algae, for example by adjusting the intensity of the light. Utilising these benefits of algae production will allow the researchers to study potential methods for large-scale production and implantation of artificial tissues. The partnership will combine the algae research expertise offered by WUR with the other institutions’ medical knowledge and biofabrication expertise. The benefits of this research to society are immense: there are nowhere near enough organ donors to meet the demand for donor tissue.

Project researchers: Miguel Castilho (TUe, UMC Utrecht), René Wijffels (WUR), Dirk Martens (WUR), Bart Spee (UU), Mylène de Ruiter (UMC Utrecht), Jos Malda (UMC Utrecht)

Jos Malda, Professor Biofabrication in Regenerative Medicine and Head of Research at the Department of Orthopaedics, UMC Utrecht: ‘Producing algae and printing them together with mammalian tissue, is unique. This collaboration makes it possible to bring together technological, biological and translational research and to strengthen each other’.  

Building blocks of cell polarity

The Building blocks of cell polarity project aims to develop a unique, joint research programme that is securely anchored within WUR, UU and UMC Utrecht. The research will focus on better understanding the principles of cell polarity; one of the most important ways cells specialise and organise themselves. Cell polarity occurs in both the plant and animal kingdoms. Recently, scientists unexpectedly discovered that there are major similarities in the mechanisms that plants and animals (including humans) use to polarise cells. This fundamental research project at the junction of Biology, Biochemistry and Physics will use these similarities to decipher the basic principles of cell polarity. The project will unite research groups from three institutions to work on the question together.

Project researchers: Dolf Weijers (WUR), Mike Boxem (UU), Berend Snel (UU), Madelon Maurice (UMC Utrecht)

Mike van Boxem, Professor of Biodynamics and Biocomplexity, UU: “In this project, the alliance brings together specialists in plants, animal models and molecular evolution. Combined, we have the expertise needed for a new research programme in which the similarities between plants and animals (humans) are used to decipher the basic principles cells use to polarise.”

Towards a sustainable economy and society: The Second Deep Transition in the Netherlands

Industrialisation and globalisation (the first ‘deep transition’) have brought considerable prosperity and well-being to the Western world. Unfortunately, the negative effects of these non-sustainable systems are unmistakeable. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals show that people around the world are willing to work on the transition to a sustainable society. The Deep Transitions project shows how our current non-sustainable systems developed, and which mechanisms underlie these systems. The project’s goal is to learn from the past, avoid falling into the same pitfalls, and work together to build a sustainable future and bring about a Second Deep Transition by studying the period between 1900 – 2050. An important element of the study will involve a historical analysis. The study will combine past and present transitions in the areas of nutrition, health care, mobility, energy and water systems in order to build bridges between the alliance’s various disciplines and themes. Other project partners include the CBS, Urgenda, Rathenau Institute, ASML, the Ministry of Economic and Climate, and TNO.

Project researchers: Erik van der Vleuten (TUe), Harry Lintsen (TUe), Jan Pieter Smits (TUe), Frank Veraart (TUe), Barbara van Mierlo (WUR), Laurens Klerkx (WUR), Johan Schot (UU), Joost Dankers (UU), Joost de Laat (UU)

Johan Schot, Professor Global History and Sustainability Transitions, UU and Harry Lintsen, Professor Emeritus of the History of Technology, TUe: “In this project, we’ll be travelling through time from the past to the future, and back to the present again, to see which choices we can make today.”