Utrecht University: Rubicon grant for six Utrecht researchers

With this grant, Utrecht scientists can conduct their research at a university abroad for a maximum of 24 months. The Rubicon grant is intended for young researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate. A total of 24 scientists in the Netherlands received such a grant in this round.

Studying Fish for the Causes of Alzheimer’s-Like Diseases
Dennis de Bakker is a researcher at the Hubrecht Institute. He will use his grant to conduct research for two years at the Leibniz Institute on Ageing in Jena. There he will investigate the causes of neurodegeneration in African killifish.

The neurons of the African killifish die with age. This occurs spontaneously and is therefore similar to the loss of neurons that occurs in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. By comparing, cutting and pasting the DNA of different species of killifish, De Bakker hopes to identify how these fish develop Alzheimer’s disease and which evolutionary events have made the fish so susceptible. This research may ultimately lead to the identification of novel targets for slowing neurodegeneration in patients.

“I am very happy to receive the Rubicon grant,” says de Bakker. “Now I can delve into research into the evolution of Alzheimer’s-like diseases using African killifish. New insights into the factors that predispose a species to these types of neurological disorders are really advancing the research field.”

I’m so happy with the Rubicon grant, now I can really delve into studying the evolution of Alzheimer’s-like diseases.

Dennis de Bakker
Dennis de Bakker
Researcher at the Hubrecht Institute
Brein van killivis
“Ultimately, my work could lead to the identification of new factors that could be targeted to slow neurodegeneration in patients. In this photo you can see a part of the killifish brain in which green is the astrocytes, the support cells, red is the neuronal nuclei and blue is all the nuclei.

The fate of a cell in our body
Kadi Lõhmussaar is also a researcher at the Hubrecht Institute. She will go to the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) of the University of Copenhagen (Denmark) to study cell fate decisions in homeostasis and disease.

Tissue in the intestines can become damaged due to for example stress, cancer treatment or bacterial infections. Consequently, the surviving cells acquire a fetal-like identity that is normally only observed during development. The transition of the cells to the fetal-like state has been found to be essential for repair of the damaged tissue. Lōhmussaar will study this specific cell transition in intestinal tissue on a molecular level to gain understanding of the exact mechanisms that guide it.

“I am honored to receive the Rubicon grant. I think it’s a great strategy by NWO to support the international development of locally trained researchers while also safeguarding the continued link with the Netherlands,” she says. “The support from the Rubicon fellowship offers me an unprecedented opportunity to further advance my knowledge and training abroad, and increases my chances of returning the benefit one day.”


I think it’s a great strategy by NWO to support the international development of locally trained researchers while also safeguarding the continued link with the Netherlands,

Kadi Lohmussaar
Kadi Lõhmussaar
Researcher at theHubrecht institute
Bullying is a group process: how do you defend someone?
Lydia Laninga-Wijnen is a recently promoted researcher at the Faculty of Social Sciences. With the Rubicon grant, she will conduct research into anti-bullying programs at the University of Turku in Finland external linkfor two years.

These programs encourage young people to defend victims so that the bullying stops and victims feel better. In her research, Laninga-Wijnen focuses on a frequently used part of anti-bullying programs: encouraging defense. “Bullying is a group process: in about 80% of the cases, other children are involved. About 10 to 25% of those children really try to do something about the bullying and defend the victim. This is good, because the silence of passive supporters can be even more painful than the bullying itself.”

At the same time, previous research has shown that victims are not always helped by the defense efforts of their fellow students. “Defending sometimes even backfires: bullying can get worse, making victims feel even worse. I want to investigate why that is, and which factors do contribute to successful defense.”

As a researcher, she is very much looking forward to her collaboration with Finnish scientists. “What I appreciate in this research group: they dare to look at what is not going well within current anti-bullying programs and what we can do about it. My project fits in seamlessly with that.” “I made a happy dance through my office. How cool and how unreal! It is nothing less than a dream come true. Doing research into what really matters: reducing bullying and ensuring that children feel good and good at school.”

It’s a dream come true, I want to reduce bullying and make kids feel good at school.

Lydia Laninga Wijnen
Lydia Laninga-Wijnen
Researcher Interdisciplinary Social Science
Synthetic chemicals as a cause of biodiversity loss
Iris Pit is a researcher at the Faculty of Geosciences. With this grant, Iris Pit will conduct research at Stockholm University in Sweden for two years.

European rivers contain a mix of synthetic chemicals created by wastewater discharges. However, the effect of synthetic chemicals on biodiversity is unknown. In this project it will be determined whether and which chemicals cause a decrease in biodiversity. Results will help monitor water quality and create a toxic-free environment.

This Rubicon will give me the ability to strive for a toxic-free environment using an interdisciplinary approach. I believe addressing synthetic chemicals in surface waters and creating an impact through the science-to-policy process is needed to safeguard river ecosystems in the future.

To safeguard the future of rivers, we must address synthetic chemicals in surface waters.

Iris Pit
Iris Pit
Environmental scientist, faculty of Geoscience
Logistical problems of molecular transport in brain cells
Feline Lindhout is a researcher at the Faculty of Science. With this Rubicon grant she can do research for 2 years in the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

Logistical problems of molecular transport in brain cells often lead to neurological disorders. Scientific knowledge comes mainly from animal research, but are these findings translatable to humans? Scientists can now investigate this by studying these processes in cultures of human brain tissues.

Resetting the Heart’s Nervous System
Valerie van Weperen is assistant physician in cardiology & lung diseases at the Diakonessenhuis in Utrecht. Before that, she worked as a doctor-researcher at the UMC Utrecht. With this Rubicon grant, Van Weperen will conduct research at the University of California, Los Angeles for 2 years.

Heart disease disrupts the activity of the heart’s nervous system. This can cause dangerous arrhythmias. This research will find out how, in heart disease not caused by blocked arteries, nervous system disruption causes dangerous arrhythmias and whether this is treatable.

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