The NWO Domain Board Science has approved seventeen grant applications in the so-called Open Competition Domain Science-M programme. These M-grants are intended for innovative, high-quality, fundamental research and/or studies involving matters of scientific urgency. The M-grant offers researchers the possibility to elaborate creative and risky ideas and to realise scientific innovations that can form the basis for the research themes of the future.
How does an organism 'feel' something harmful?
Physicists Erwin Peterman and Christine Bruggeman received the grant for their research proposal 'From sensing chemicals to avoiding them: how C. elegans detects its chemical environment and responds to it'. As soon as an organism tastes or smells something harmful, it tries to retract to protect itself. In this project, the scientists will use the nematode 'Caenorhabditis elegans' to study how recognition of a toxic compound by cilia, antenna-like extensions of neurons, is translated into neuronal activation leading to avoidance behaviour. To investigate this, they will make use of a microfluidics device to provide chemical solutions to the tail of the worm. Simultaneously they will perform fluorescence microscopy to observe molecular responses in the cilium and neuronal activation.
Studying the brain three-dimensionally
Neuroscientist Vivi Heine, together with Angelo Accardo from TU Delft, received the grant for their proposal '3D cell-instructive engineered stem cell models of human brain networks'. Recent developments in the stem cell and organoid field provided new tools to study cellular mechanisms in the healthy and diseased brain. However, these model systems lack structural and biochemical properties of the three-dimensional microenvironment that majorly influence cellular and network properties. By combining expertise in developmental neurobiology and microfabrication, the scientists aim to engineer multi-scale brain-inspired 3D scaffolds to mature induced pluripotent stem cells into neural cultures of healthy subjects and patients. This integrated approach can be potentially used to ‘diagnose’ patient cell phenotypes and to screen compounds for the treatment of disease.