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Virologist Rimmelzwaan awarded most highly-endowed German prize

Virologist Prof. Guus Rimmelzwaan, affiliated to Erasmus MC, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Professorship.

Guus Rimmelzwaan 

Influenza viruses
The award, which is presented annually to a select number of international top scientists, amounts to €5 million. Rimmelzwaan will use the funds to conduct research at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover on immunity to influenza viruses.

The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, named after the famous Prussian naturalist and explorer, is awarded by the German institute named after the explorer and is financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It is the most highly-endowed research award in Germany, and in this way Germany hopes to draw top international researchers to German universities.

Prof. Marion Koopmans, head of the department of Viroscience, is extremely proud that this honor has been bestowed upon one of her researchers. "This prize is the German equivalent of our Spinozo Prize, except that the funds awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation are twice as high. This is a great acknowledgement for his work. Guus has developed his potential at Erasmus MC to compete with the very best."

She is sorry to see Rimmelzwaan go, but expects that they will stay in contact.  "Research on influenza will remain an important focal point at Erasmus MC and we will certainly work together closely in future." However, she also sees the award as a warning. "We must ensure that the diminishing budgets available in the Netherlands for fundamental, curiosity-driven scientific research do not mean that too many academic leaders from our UMCs are enticed by large, international grants."'

Rimmelzwaan, who leaves for Hannover this fall, will accept the award in May next year during an official ceremony. He is reluctant and sad to leave. "It has always been a great pleasure working here. It will be hard to leave after 23 years, but this is a unique opportunity that I really have to take."'

The virologist will develop his own research line at the University of Veterinary Medicine, which will continue to focus on immunological defense against influenza, in other words, flu and vaccine development. "We cannot predict when a new influenza virus will emerge that may trigger a pandemic. But we do know that it will certainly happen at some point in the future."

The need for vaccines that can generate broad immunity is therefore high. "Several research groups are now working in parallel on the various vaccines that focus on two different arms of the immune system. I hope to use these funds to set up a new research group that will study immunity against influenza. They will also work on the development of a universal influenza vaccine." 

Date published: 30 May 2017.

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