The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded the Consolidator Grants to neurologist Matthijs Brouwer and computational neuroscientist Martijn van den Heuvel. The prestigious grants are awarded to individual researchers and amount to around 2 million euros per project. With the grant Brouwer wants to improve the cause-specific diagnosis of encephalitis using innovative diagnostic methods. Whereas Van den Heuvel will study patterns of brain connectivity towards a common mechanism of mental conditions and prediction connectomics.
Matthijs Brouwer
Martijn van den Heuvel

Matthijs Brouwer – Improving prognosis by using innovative methods to diagnose causes of encephalitis

Severe inflammation of the brain

Encephalitis is a severe inflammation of the brain that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, as well as by overactivity of the immune system. In half of the people with encephalitis, however, the cause remains unclear, and it is therefore difficult for doctors to choose the correct treatment. One in six patients with encephalitis dies, which is partly due to the treatment delay caused by the uncertainty on the cause of the problem.

Torturing cerebrospinal fluid on the cause of encephalitis until it will confess

With the research project called IPACE: ‘Improving Prognosis by Using Innovative Methods to Diagnose Causes of Encephalitis’ Brouwer wants to identify the cause of encephalitis for early initiation of therapy. Brouwer will be searching for new causes of encephalitis in a large group of patients. He will use innovative techniques to study cerebrospinal fluid in order to identify previously unknown viruses and other pathogens. By looking at patterns of gene expression (RNA), lipids, metabolites and proteins in cerebrospinal fluid, he wants to find a fingerprint of each cause of encephalitis, allowing for the cause to be determined within a few hours. This will enable fast and targeted treatment and thereby improve the prognosis of patients with encephalitis. Brouwer aims to discover novel causes of infectious and autoimmune encephalitis, and provide insights in its pathophysiology.

Martijn van den Heuvel - Connecting cross-condition patterns of brain connectivity towards a common mechanism of mental conditions and prediction connectomics

Maps of the human brain

Van den Heuvel can be seen as one of the pioneers in the field of ‘connectomics’, the arena that studies the human brain from a network perspective. With his research Van den Heuvel wants to build the most detailed network of the human connectome possible. This ‘google maps’ of the human brain will greatly help to investigate the relationship between how our brain is wired and the rich spectrum of cognitive behavior and function we display. By studying the maps of the human brain in detail, Van den Heuvel wants to see where there may be vulnerabilities in our brains. The analysis techniques to study and compare these maps are still in the early phase of development. With this ERC grant Van den Heuvel will improve and simplify those analysis techniques.

Risk genes and risk connections

An important question that Van den Heuvel wants to address with his study is whether there is a connection with genetics. More and more genetic research show that different risk genes are involved in brain disorders. People may have a ‘predisposition’ to develop Alzheimer's disease or insomnia. With the ERC grant Van den Heuvel wants to answer the following questions: how do these genetic vulnerabilities relate to connectivity vulnerabilities? And are certain connections more susceptible to disruption, and is this related to genetic vulnerabilities?

Consolidator Grants are intended for researchers who obtained their PhDs seven to twelve years ago. The grants enable researchers to consolidate independent positions within their fields. Read more on the ERC Consolidator Grants.