Department of Viroscience

Department of Viroscience

 
Virologist Dr Bernadette van den Hoogen has received a Marie Sk?odowska-Curie action grant for Innovative Training Networks. With a budget of 3.5 million euros, Van den Hoogen's network can realise the project INITIATE to acquire more insight into the interaction between viruses, the human immune system and metabolism at the cellular level. Ten European partners have established the consortium INITIATE for this research, and they will set up a research group with 15 European PhD students that will work on this new discipline for three years.
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A new discipline for a new generation of researchers
The Marie Sk?odowska-Curie action grant for Innovative Training Networks is intended explicitly for training a new generation of researchers in an emerging new discipline that requires researchers with a broad expertise. The consortium INITIATE, with Van den Hoogen as the coordinator, will focus on the new discipline of antiviral immuno-metabolism. That is a combination of the disciplines virology, metabolic studies and immunology. Van den Hoogen: 'The young researchers will work in a large international network because this is a collaboration between European universities and companies. The universities of Rotterdam, Dublin, Trondheim, Rome, Vienna, Leiden and Utrecht are involved in the consortium as well as companies in Paris, Gothenburg and Leiden. It is this combination, in particular, that provides the researchers with a network that can accelerate their career and that they can benefit from for the rest of their lives.'
The grant, named after the famous researcher Marie Curie, is a prestigious grant from the European Union. Only 5 to 8 percent of the many proposals submitted each year are awarded funding.

Interaction between viruses and human immune system
The acronym INITIATE stands for Innate Immunometabolism as Antiviral Target. In this research field, the interaction between viruses and the human immune system is investigated. Van den Hoogen: 'With INITIATE we want to try to understand how the interaction between viruses, the immune system and the metabolism works at the cellular level. In doing so, we will hopefully be able to use that knowledge to develop better therapeutics against viral infections. Knowledge about how an existing virus evades the immune system could enable us to combat new, unknown viruses better and faster. That would allow us to make significant advances in controlling viral infections. Furthermore, with this fundamental knowledge, we can contribute to the development of more effective gene therapy for the treatment of cancer.'

Profile PhD students
Now that the grant has been awarded, Van den Hoogen and her fellow researchers can recruit PhD students in the European Union. Also, given the grant requirements, they have produced a clear and ambitious profile for potential candidates. 'We want to give an opportunity to 15 PhD students from various countries who want to commit to this project for three to four years as Early Stage Researchers. That means we are talking about students who belong to the top ten percent of their degree programme in the biomedical sciences. They will be trained in various scientific disciplines and will carry out part of their research at one of the participating companies. The intention is that by realising their training at the interface of academia and industry, they will ultimately be able to reduce the gap between academia and industry in their careers.'

Bernadette van den Hoogen
Bernadette van den Hoogen came to work as a PhD student at the Department of Viroscience of Erasmus MC in 2000, after working for four years at the University of Philadelphia (USA). In 2004, she gained her doctorate for her research into the human metapneumovirus. Her discovery of this virus was seen in the international world of science as a breakthrough in the control of a highly prevalent infectious disease. This virus is similar to the RS virus that causes severe respiratory infections in young children in particular.
Her research focuses on the interaction between viruses and the immune system. 'A combination of disciplines often leads to more insights in those disciplines or even to a new discipline. INITIATE is a good example of that, which will hopefully lead to more knowledge and intervention options, but undoubtedly new research questions too.'

Further information about INITIATE can be found at www.initiate-itn.eu.

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