NWO STAR Information

The STAR graduate programme in AIMMS commenced in 2013, funded by an NWO grant of € 800,000. This programme offered AIMMS the opportunity to select and train outstanding Master’s students in the multidisciplinary field of antimicrobial research.
A two-year introductory and selection period preceded the appointment of 4 AIMMS STAR PhD students in the final quarter of 2015. 

The NWO STAR programme was mainly oriented at VU students who participated in Master’s (i) Drug Discovery and Safety (DDS), (ii) Biomolecular Sciences (BMS), or (iii) Bioinformatics/Systems Biology with a strong research oriented ambition and profile.

Short overview of the NWO STAR programme

First year of the Master's – 2013-2014
In academic year 2013/2014, all MSc students interested in AIMMS STAR were introduced into the multidisciplinary field on antimicrobial research with courses and seminars. During the 2014 AIMMS Annual Meeting, prof. Frank Bruggeman gave an update of the NWO STAR programme while AIMMS PI’s provided 3-minute pitches to the audience –including possible STAR students- to inform them on and to interest them in their research.

23 students from the relevant VU Master’s studies were approached to apply to the NWO STAR programme based on grades, performances and references from Master's coordinators. For those interested, an internship at ULLA-partner institutes in Leuven, Copenhagen and Uppsala could be arranged.

Second year of the Master's – 2014-2015
A total of 13 application letters were sent in. Based on their resume, motivation letter and interview, 9 students were selected to continue the NWO STAR programme in 2014/2015. The NWO STAR students followed a course in grant writing in fall 2014 and also took part in the post-graduate course New paradigms targeting resistance against antimicrobials.

These courses aided the MSc students in writing their multidisciplinary research proposal targeting the current challenges in antimicrobial research. Students were supervised and guided by scientists from AIMMS research groups of their choice.
The resulting final proposals were reviewed and ranked by an international expert panel May 2015. Students received the referee reports and were subsequently allowed to present their ideas, motivation and to respond to any issues raised in the referee reports in an interview with the AIMMS selection committee. The selection committee ranked the candidates; the AIMMS Management Team (MT) then formalised the proposed ranking and awarded the top-four students a PhD position.

NWO STAR PhD programme
The four selected STAR PhD students commenced their PhD project in the last quarter of 2015. The students now perform their own research under supervision of a senior scientist of their choice within one of the participating AIMMS research groups. During their research project, they will – next to their enrolment and education within AIMMS – receive additional training at Summer schools and partner institutes, and optionally in pharmaceutical industry. This will provide them with all the necessary tools to perform ground breaking research and prepare them for a fructuous career in antimicrobial research.

Meet our NWO STAR PhD students

Maarten Bebelman (Master’s study: Drug Discovery and Safety)
Targeting Exosome Signaling as Novel Antiviral Strategy against Human Cytomegalovirus Persistence and Dissemination
Research group    Target and Systems Biochemistry
Supervisor           Martine Smit

Coco van Boxtel (Master’s study: Bioinformatics and Systems Biology)
Model-based drug scheduling strategies for strategic reuse of existing antibiotics
Research Group    Systems Bioinformatics
Supervisor            Frank Bruggeman

Sandra Ortega Ugalde (Master’s study: Drug Discovery and Safety)
Novel roads to target Mycobacterium tuberculosis drug resistance by inhibiting Cytochrome P450s
Research Group    Molecular Toxicology
Supervisor(s)        Nico Vermeulen / Jan Commandeur

Maurice Steenhuis (Master’s study: Biomolecular Sciences)
Identification of novel antibiotics that inhibit protein trafficking in Gram-negative bacteria
Research Group    Molecular Microbiology
Supervisors          Wilbert Bitter / Joen Luirink

More information

For more information on the NWO STAR Graduate programme of AIMMS, please contact:

Dr Jurgen Haanstra
T +31 (0)20 59 87193
E mt@aimms.vu.nl