Dear friends & colleagues,
I am extremely honoured, proud, and happy to announce that I have been awarded a prestigious Vidi grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to start my own independent malaria research lab in Nijmegen. Below follows a press release providing further details.
Prestigious NWO-Vidi grant awarded to Dr. Taco W.A. Kooij
Taco Kooij has been awarded with a prestigious NWO-Vidi grant of max €800,000 to develop an innovative and independent line of research the coming 5 years. After studying chemistry at Utrecht University and the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow), he finished his PhD at the Leiden University Medical Centre on a comparative genome analysis of malaria parasites. The past 10 years, he has studied a variety of molecular and cellular biological aspects of malaria parasites at the University of Oxford, the Heidelberg University School of Medicine (on an EMBO long-term fellowship), and finally the Max-Planck-Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. The Vidi grant facilitates his return to the Netherlands where he will join the strong Nijmegen malaria research community. In Nijmegen, Kooij will try to unravel the functioning of the malaria parasite mitochondrion.
The malaria parasite power plant: essential & enigmatic
Unlike viruses or bacteria, malaria parasites belong to an ancient family of single-cell infectious micro-organisms that have a very complex cellular structure, much like our own cells. These cells consist of many different chambers, so called organelles, each with their own function. The mitochondrion is one such specialized organelle, often referred to as the cell's power plant, while in most cells it is the main site of energy production. Malaria parasites only have a single and abnormal mitochondrion, which is essential for the parasite's survival. Indeed, one of the most effective anti-malarial drugs, atovaquone, kills the parasite by targeting a mitochondrial protein. Nevertheless, the malaria parasite mitochondrion remains poorly understood.
About malaria, mitochondria, models & medicines
Kooij will integrate experimental and computational approaches to identify all of the estimated 400-500 mitochondrial proteins. Using this information, he will build a digital model that will allow the prediction of essential proteins. Next, he will improve existing methods to modify the parasite DNA in order to remove genes with a role in mitochondria to study their function and verify the computer predictions. Finally, by comparing the experimentally validated malaria mitochondrial model with existing models of human mitochondria, he will now be able to identify suitable targets for new anti-malarial medicines and drug intervention strategies.