Prestigious Spinoza Prize won by Prof. dr. Mihai Netea (Radboud University Medical Center)

Mihai Netea

Prof. dr. Mihai Netea, full partner in REPROGRAM, was awarded the Spinoza Prize 2016, the highest award in Dutch science.

Every year, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) awards the Spinoza Prize. The winners were announced by NWO chairman Jos Engelen on Friday 10 June.
The NWO Spinoza Prize is both an award and an honour, but it is especially an incentive for further research. It is awarded each year to researchers working in the Netherlands who according to international standards belong to the absolute top of their field.

Training the immune system
Once you have experienced a specific infection, this experience protects you against the next one. We make grateful use of this characteristic of the immune system to develop vaccines. For many years it was assumed that this immune memory is an exclusive characteristic of acquired immunity. However, research conducted by Mihai Netea at Radboud University Medical Center has shown that this is not the case. The innate immune system also has a memory. He calls this ‘trained immunity’. This memory is the result of the DNA of the immune cells remaining in a state of high alert for some time following an infection. As a result, the innate immune system responds more quickly to a new infection. This memory can also be trained, for example with the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis. This development offers promising possibilities for a new generation of vaccines. For example, this could be useful for new-borns, whose immune system is still developing, or for the elderly, whose acquired immunity is beginning to wear out. Switching on ‘trained immunity’ could also be used as a booster for other vaccines. Mihai Netea wants to study these applications in the years to come.

In REPROGRAM, one of the key-tasks of the group of Prof. Netea is to provide proof-of-concept evidence that the mechanism of trained innate immunity mediates the pro-atherogenic effects of traditional and novel cardiovascular risk factors. To this end, the function, phenotype and epigenome will be assessed in the monocytes of highly selective patient groups with (risk factors for) atherosclerosis.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement N°667837.