4 October

Kadi Lōhmussaar and Dennis de Bakker receive Rubicon grant

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Kadi Lōhmussaar and Dennis de Bakker are among the 24 recent graduates that have been awarded a Rubicon grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). This grant allows promising young scientists to gain research experience at a foreign top institute. Lōhmussaar – who completed her PhD in the group of Hans Clevers – will use the grant to study cell fate decisions in homeostasis and disease at the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC) in Denmark. De Bakker will soon obtain his PhD in the group of Jeroen Bakkers and will go to the Leibniz Institute on Ageing in Germany to study the causes of neurodegeneration in African killifish. Both researchers will go abroad for two years.

Cell fate

Lōhmussaar 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 feel very 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 grant offers me an unprecedented opportunity to further advance my knowledge and training abroad.”

Dying neurons

De Bakker will study the causes of neurodegeneration in African killifish at the Leibniz Institute on Ageing in Jena, Germany

The neurons of African killifish die with age. This occurs spontaneously, which is similar to the loss of neurons observed in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. By comparing, cutting and pasting the DNA of different killifish species, De Bakker hopes to identify how these fish develop Alzheimer’s-like disease and which evolutionary events have made them so susceptible to developing this disorder. This work may ultimately lead to the identification of new targets for delaying neurodegeneration in patients.

“I’m really excited to get the Rubicon grant. Now I can delve into studying the evolution of Alzheimer’s-like diseases using African killifish. This can really help the field forward into understanding what factors make a species susceptible to developing this type of neuronal disorders,” De Bakker explains.