28 March 2019

Carl Figdor, theme Cancer development and immune defense and Mihai Netea, theme Infectious diseases and global health, have each received an ERC Advanced Grant. The amount varies per grant, but is approximately 2.5 million euros. They can use this funding to continue their research for the next five years. In total, there are 21 ERC Advanced Grants granted to researchers of Dutch universities this year.

Carl Figdor - A new approach to immunotherapy
In the ‘ARTimmune’ project, Carl Figdor focuses on the intriguing, novel idea of ​​creating injectable synthetic lymph nodes to attack tumours more directly. His idea may have important implications for clinics. Currently, many cancer patients are failing to respond to immune therapy and new strategies are desperately needed. ARTimmune builds on the success and increasing popularity of immunotherapy in oncology, and seeks to overcome the key limitations of current treatments, such as serious side effects. Current treatments, such as CAR T-cell therapy and checkpoint inhibitors, can result in severe toxicity to normal tissues. Figdor wants to investigate a new approach in which the use of local immunotherapy reduces both toxicity and immune suppression by the tumour. ARTimmune is a direct result of the Institute of Chemical Immunology’s gravity programme, with Figdor being one of the initiators and in which chemists work closely together with immunologists.

Mihai Netea – improving vaccinations for the elderly
Mihai Netea seeks to understand how our body recognises all those pathogens and fights them effectively. Our immune system consists of an ‘innate’ and a ‘adaptive’ component. We receive this innate component at birth. The adaptive part can ‘learn’ from past infections and develops during our lifetime through direct contact with bacteria, fungi and viruses. The adaptive immune system component stores these contact situations in its immunological memory. Thanks to that memory, the immune system can strike quickly and effectively when a new infection of an already known pathogen is detected. It has long been thought that this memory is an exclusive feature of the learned defences. However, research by Mihai Netea and colleagues shows that this is not the case. The innate system also has a memory, albeit a non-specific one. Something they call ‘trained immunity’. They also discovered that the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis can stimulate the innate immune system’s memory. They demonstrated that the innate immune system responds better to all kinds of other infections after a BCG vaccination has been administered. Now Netea wants to investigate whether the vaccine can be used to boost the immune system of the elderly. Netea and his colleagues hope to clarify the role of different immune cells in trained immunity in order to ultimately determine whether the BCG vaccination can be useful for specific target groups with a weakened immune system. 

More information about ERC Advanced grants at Radboud University you can find here.


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