EndoConnect to understand the molecular regulation News
Bart van de Sluis, professor at the Department of Pediatrics of the UMCG received a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovation Training Network (ITN) grant for his project entitled EndoConnect to understand the molecular regulation and the role of endo-lysosomal processes in cardio-metabolic diseases (2021–2024).

Background

I studied biology in Utrecht, then I did my PhD in genetics in Prof. Cisca Wijmenga’s laboratory. After graduating in 2002, I went to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda [United States] for my post-doc in molecular genetics. After my experience abroad, I returned to Utrecht and in 2008 I started at the UMCG where I am now adjunct professor and also responsible for the transgenic mouse facility.

About the project

The aim of the project is to understand the role of the endo-lysosomal system in metabolic diseases and how it is regulated at the molecular level. We want to understand the molecular organization and regulation of endo-lysosomal processes, elucidate how metabolism and endo-lysosomal processes are intertwined, and understand how defects in the endo-lysosomal system contribute to the development of cardio-metabolic diseases. To do this, I have set-up a consortium of researchers who have expertise in different disciplines, which are essential to understand the regulation of these processes at cellular and organismal level. Most of the partners I know from the literature and only a few of the partners I collaborated with in the past.

The relevance of the project is wide because cardio-metabolic diseases account for almost 40% of all death worldwide every year, and thus represent a heavy burden on our society and healthcare system. Today, this problem starts already early in life. You can see it in schools where obesity is becoming a problem among children. Being obese is not a problem in principle, but obesity increases the risk of developing diseases, such as heart attacks, diabetes, liver failure and liver cancer later in life. 

The application

It is always difficult to get money for research, especially for basic research. About grants like ITNs, I like the possibility to create a consortium with people from different disciplines, and still have the opportunity to do basic research. In our lab we do a lot of in vivo work, mainly with experimental mouse models, which is our expertise; in this ITN, we combine our approach with cellular biology studies. By combining these approaches and connecting people in different fields, you can really make a difference and broaden knowledge.

Tips

Keep trying! It is a challenging grant to write, because you have to write it as a training project and not as a usual scientific project; the mind-set is totally different than a scientific project: the science is limited; most of it is training.

We applied three times. The first time I had the idea for the ITN and I contacted the researchers that I thought would fit our goal. Most of the partners were very positive, so we wrote and applied the first time, and received 90 points. The second time, we were helped by the company Innovayt, which has a lot of experience with ITN applications. They helped us a lot to make relevant changes in the application and to improve it; the second time, we received 94 points but it was still not enough to receive the grant. The third time, we did not know what to change anymore; we were afraid that every change we would make would affect the proposal negatively. We only improved the figures and made the text leaner. We received 98 points and got the grant. 

Take-home message

Build a multidisciplinary consortium; keep trying; ask for help; continue improving the proposal.