Kerensa Broersen has been awarded a Vici grant by NWO. Today the awards for the science domains Applied and Technical Sciences (TTW) and Health Research and Care Innovation (ZonMw) were announced: twelve researchers from Dutch education and research institutions received one.
Kerensa Broersen, associate professor at the Department of Applied Stem Cell Technology of the faculty ST of the UT, studies how intestinal bacteria communicate with the brain and what happens in diseases such as Parkinson's disease. This is done by using mini-organs, made with the help of stem cells, which mimic the intestines and the brain.
Brain disorders present a global debilitating burden to society urgently calling for an in-depth molecular understanding of their pathological processes to propel the development of effective therapeutic targeting strategies forward.
While many brain-localized aspects are known that regulate brain function, interestingly, a feature located nearly a meter away from the brain critically drives brain activity and cognition. This feature comprises the intestinal microbiota, or microbiome, the collection of microorganisms residing in the intestine, which is considered to interact with the brain via the intestinal microbiome-gut-brain axis.
The microbiome-gut-brain axis provides an overt communication route involving extending neurons driving the interaction between the gut and the brain. Perturbations in the richness and diversity of the microbiome are a common feature in many brain-related disorders, including neurodegeneration, brain tumours, multiple sclerosis, autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.
Nevertheless, the molecules, cell types and signalling pathways involved in this multi-tissue process remain enigmatic. Studies into this topic remain sparse as a result of multi-organ complexity and challenges to accurately recapitulate this complexity by means of current model systems of the human physiological microbiome-gut-brain axis.
This Vici project aims to provide fundamental mechanistic insights into how long-distance interaction aids the communication between the microbiome and the brain in health and disease by exploiting the differentiation potential of induced pluripotent stem cells into organoids. Kerensa and her team will generate an integrated microbiome-gut-brain axis from polycultured microbiome and stem cell-derived intestine, vagus nerve and brain connection that recapitulates key aspects of human physiology. The potential of this model to mimic critical aspects of the clinically observed association between microbiome composition, vagus nerve activity, and brain function will be evaluated and the model will be validated against microbiome-gut-brain axis-mediated Parkinson’s disease-associated neurodegeneration phenomena.
Together with the Veni and Vidi grants, Vici funding is part of the NWO Talent Programme. Researchers receive funding of up to 1.5 million euros. This will enable them to develop an innovative line of research and build up their own research group for five years. Vici is one of the largest personal scientific grants in the Netherlands and is aimed at advanced researchers.
Today, the Vici awards in two domains were announced; those for the other scientific domains will follow later.