Medical biologist awarded Dutch science’s highest accolade

Yvette van Kooyk of Amsterdam UMC (VUmc) has been awarded the Spinoza Prize, which includes a sum of €2.5 million

06/24/2019 | 10:13 AM

Today, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) announced the names of four professors – including Yvette van Kooyk, a medical biologist working at Amsterdam UMC (VUmc) – who have been awarded the NWO Spinoza Prize and two professors who have been awarded the Stevin Prize. The Spinoza and Stevin Prizes are Dutch science’s highest accolades. The laureates will each receive €2.5 million, to be spent on scientific research and on activities related to the uptake of knowledge.

Yvette van Kooyk
Professor Yvette van Kooyk, who heads the Molecular Cell Biology and Immunology department, was awarded the Spinoza Prize for her research in the field of immunology. She unravelled the mystery of how cancer, autoimmune diseases and infectious diseases (such as HIV/AIDS) are able to disrupt the immune system. She discovered that certain sugar molecules, known as ‘glycans’, can stimulate – or, indeed, inhibit – communication between cells of the immune system. Prof. Van Kooyk develops nanomedicines that help the immune system fight cancer and other diseases. She is regarded as a world-class expert in this field.

Ambitions achieved
Vinod Subramaniam, Rector Magnificus of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: “I am extremely proud that Yvette van Kooyk has won the Spinoza Prize. She has already received a number of prestigious awards, such as the ERC Advanced Grant. So it is entirely fitting that she be awarded this particular prize, as a crowning achievement to a glittering career. The Prize will give an enormous impetus to Yvette’s efforts to make the field of immunology more tangible for society at large.”

Meet and inspire
Yvette van Kooyk points out that “When it comes to research into cancer or arthritis, people immediately have some idea of what you are talking about. It is much more difficult to package immunology for public consumption. Yet this field enjoys much greater social status in America. I want to build a robust network of glycoimmunologists, to help us meet up – and inspire one another – a little more often than we do now. I would also like to see stronger ties between our research and the world of clinical practice. I’m also keen to involve artists, as they could help us reach a wider audience in a way that is outside our scientific comfort zone. This would help the public to see what immunology involves, and what challenges those in our field are currently tackling.” Read the details of NWOs interview with Yvette van Kooyk.

The Spinoza Prize – 25 years on
The researchers were awarded the Prize for their exceptional, ground-breaking and inspiring work. This year, 2019, marks the 25th anniversary of the Spinoza Prize and the Stevin Prize, which are awarded to outstanding academics in recognition of their work. The paramount consideration with each of these prizes is the quality of the researcher in question. While the Spinoza Prize focuses on scientific work and fundamental questions, the Stevin Prize is primarily intended to honour the social impact of a researcher’s endeavours.

The other winners are Bas van Bavel (a Utrecht University historian), Ronald Hanson (Professor of Quantum Physics at Delft University of Technology) and Amina Helmi (Professor of Dynamics, Structure and Formation of the Milky Way at the University of Groningen’s Kapteyn Institute). The Stevin Prize was awarded to Andrea Evers (Professor of Health Psychology at Leiden University) and Jack Pronk (Professor of Industrial Microbiology at Delft University of Technology).

The award ceremony for the Spinoza Prizes and Stevin Prizes will take place on Wednesday 2 October at the Koninklijke Schouwburg (Theatre Royal) in The Hague. During this ceremony, the Spinoza and Stevin laureates will explain the nature of their research and set out their plans for the prize money.

Read more on the NWO website

Photography by NWO, Studio Oostrum / Hollandse Hoogte