Prevent – Cure – Care Dialoogsessies
Prevent – Cure – Care Dialoogsessies

Gravitation grant for research into therapies for blindness, adaptability in crises

Several projects involving researchers from Radboud University and Radboudumc are receiving NWO Gravitation Grants. These projects will each receive amounts of more than 20 million euros for top research.

Lifelong Vision

The 'Lifelong Vision' consortium led by Caroline Klaver of the Radboudumc will develop new treatments for blindness. The researchers want to repair broken genes, print a new retina with a bio-printer, and find out how zebrafish manage to repair their own retinas. The consortium will receive 22 million euros for this from the NWO Zwaartekracht program of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

An important part of the project is gene therapy. If a mistake in a gene leads to blindness, doctors can now introduce a whole new gene. They inject it into the eye under the retina, hoping it will reach the right cells and cause those cells to start making healthy proteins again. 'Unfortunately, this doesn't work very well yet,' says Radboudumc Professor of Epidemiology and Genetics of Eye Diseases Caroline Klaver. 'Many genes are not suitable for this because they are too large. We therefore want to carry out the repair much more precisely, with gene editing. In this, we only rewrite the error in the gene, so we no longer replace the entire gene.'


The Adapt! team, led by Beatrice de Graaf of Utrecht University, is also receiving a grant of more than 20 million euros. The project involves a team of researchers from five universities that will spend the next few years investigating what cultural, social and policy capacities are needed to deal with such crises. Lotte Jensen, professor of Dutch literary and cultural history, is associated with the project on behalf of Radboud University. 

Some communities drifted apart during the corona pandemic, while others stood their ground. What exactly is the reason for this? The Adapt! team will investigate. 'During the pandemic, it became clear that the core values of open societies, such as freedom, equality and solidarity, can become eroded,' Adapt! leader and historian Beatrice de Graaf (Utrecht University) says. 'We want to know how to prevent that and how to respond better as a society to a crisis.'

Jensen will contribute her historical-cultural expertise on dealing with crises since 1800. 'How do people respond to these kinds of crises? What lessons can we draw from the past that are still useful for the present? Much of the course of the covid pandemic, for example, we could already predict based on historical patterns,' Jensen explains. She also emphasizes the diverse functions of culture, such as comfort, healing and meaning in times of disaster.

The innovative aspect of the project for Jensen is the close collaboration with different disciplines within subprojects. With Ellen Giebels (University of Twente), she will investigate how historical knowledge and psychology reinforce each other in understanding how people respond to disruption. In another subproject, researchers will jointly design future scenarios, including one on sea level rise. Jensen contributes to this with her years of research on how people deal with water.

Challenges in Cyber Security

Cybersecurity is often portrayed as an education problem or a lack of resources, blaming users, system administrators or budget holders who limit system management capabilities. However, many difficult problems remain unsolved because they require coordinated scientific research. The 'Challenges in Cyber Security' project therefore brings together top researchers from hard science in the cyber security field. The project receives a contribution of almost 10 million euros.

Tanja Lange is coordinator on behalf of TU/eindhoven and is pulling the cart in collaboration with Lejla Batina (Radboud University), Herbert Bos (VU), Marten van Dijk (CWI) and Christian Schaffner (UvA). Lange 'Cybersecurity is in the news every week with data breaches and critical vulnerabilities,' says Lange. 'We took a step back to plan how to rebuild it, instead of contributing to the break-and-patch cycle that dominates the current approach.' The result: the 'Challenges in Cyber Security' project. 'It's a moonshot problem, but we formed a strong team of excellent scientists and created a roadmap with nine core challenges.'

FLOW, GreenTE en iNCS

Evan Spruijt and colleagues from the Institute for Molecules and Materials are involved in FLOW, of which Ineke Braakman from Utrecht University is the lead applicant. Health is not a given, the cells in our body are often threatened by errors in our own proteins. To prevent damage by such harmful proteins, they are normally repaired or removed by the cell's quality control system. When quality control fails, it results in diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cystic fibrosis and haemophilia, for example. This project aims to understand the cell's quality control process so well that that knowledge can be used to cure and prevent diseases.

Jian Xu from RIBES is involved with GreenTE: Green Tissue Engineering. This project is aimed at developing more knowledge about how plant cells perceive mechanical forces, such as those from stresses and pathogens. With this knowledge, the consortium will develop new strategies to improve propagation and immunity in crops. Xu, Professor of Plant Systems Physiology, will utilize his expertise in single-cell analysis techniques for plants, especially in root development and plant regeneration. This will aid the aim of formulating engineering principles for the precise differentiation of select plant cell or tissue types. The GreenTE consortium also includes researchers from the WUR, RUG, VU, UU, LU, and TUE. Together, biologists, physcists, chemists, and modellers will use the acquired knowledge to develop innovative applications in plant tissue engineering.

In addition, researchers from Radboudumc are involved in the Institute for Chemical Neuroscience. More information can be found at NWO.

About NWO Gravitation

The Gravitation program is implemented by NWO on behalf of the Ministry of OCW. The seven consortia selected this year will together receive 160.5 million euros. Researchers can conduct top research and multidisciplinary collaboration for ten years.

Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf (OCW): 'With investments like these, we ensure that we in the Netherlands remain among the world's scientific top. This not only provides important new insights, but also strengthens our economy. And it brings innovations from which we all benefit. I am proud that we have such scientific talent in our own country. It is not something to be taken for granted. Truly something to be cherished.'