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Virologist receives highest German prize worth 5 million euros

Virologist professor Guus Rimmelzwaan, who works at Erasmus MC, has been awarded the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. The prize, which is awarded each year to a select number of international top scientists, is worth five million euros. Rimmelzwaan will use the money to do research at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover into immunity against influenza viruses.

The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, named after the famous German naturalist and explorer is awarded by the German foundation bearing the same name and funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. It is the biggest prize that is awarded in Germany for scientific research. With the prize the Germans hope to attract top international scientific talent to their universities.

Head of the Erasmus MC Virology Department professor Marion Koopmans is incredibly proud that one of her staff has received this honour. "This prize is the German equivalent of the Dutch Spinoza Prize but the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awards twice as much money with the prize. This is an enormous sign of recognition. Guus has been able to develop into an absolute top scientist at Erasmus MC.''

She finds it a shame that Rimmelzwaan is leaving but she knows that the department will maintain good contact with him. "Influenza research remains an important spearhead at Erasmus MC and in the future we will certainly collaborate intensively." However, she also sees his departure as a warning. "We must ensure that the diminishing budgets available in the Netherlands for fundamental, curiosity-driven scientific research do not result in too many top scientists from the university medical centres being enticed to work elsewhere with large foreign grants.''

Rimmelzwaan, who leaves for Hanover this autumn, will receive the prize next May during an official ceremony. His departure is not without emotion. "I have worked here for 23 years with considerable pleasure. However this is too big a chance to miss.''

The virologist will set up his own line of research at the University of Veterinary Medicine. His focus area will continue to be immunological resistance against influenza and developing a vaccine for influenza. "We cannot predict when a new influenza virus that can cause a pandemic will evolve. However we do know for certain that this will happen."
The need for vaccines that can elicit a broad-spectrum immunity is therefore considerable. "Various research groups are now working in parallel on different vaccines that focus on two different arms of the immune system. With this money I hope to be able to set up a new research group that will investigate immunity against influenza, and that will work on the development of a universal vaccine against all types of influenza.''

gepubliceerd: 6 juni 2017

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