Centre of Excellence for Systems Biology in Cluj, Romania

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A magnificent lab, international research collaboration, and great training locations for Dutch, Romanian, and German students. That is all possible at the Centre of Excellence for Systems Biology in Cluj, Romania— except it does not exist yet. However, Mihai Netea and Leo Joosten, theme Infectious diseases and global health have received a grant to make this a reality.

At the end of March, they received the good news, right before they were scheduled to leave for Cluj for a few days: the team which Mihai Netea and Leo Joosten initiated, will receive a grant of about €400,000 for the development of their business plan. They have one year to implement it.
If their plan works, tens of millions of euros will be made available for the Centre of Excellence in Cluj in the field of systems biology. Systems biology is based on the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, the complexity of a cell is being unravelled by studying all components of that cell as well as the interactions between those components.

Teamwork and exchange

In addition to Nijmegen and Cluj, the University of Bonn is also a partner in the project, which falls under the ‘Teaming for Excellence’ initiative from the European Horizon 2020 programme. In this programme, Eastern European countries collaborate with Western European ones. Teaming for Excellence is meant to stimulate increased participation from Eastern European countries. “At the moment, they are seriously under-represented in Horizon 2020,” explains Wilfried Reincke, a liaison officer at Radboud Innovation who is also involved in the request. “Teaming for Excellence is focused on bridging the research and innovation gap in Europe and better utilising the potential talent in Eastern Europe. In order to achieve this, we are trying to initiate a cultural shift there - in this case, Romania - regarding the way in which research, education, and innovation are performed.”

university of clujUniversity of Cluj


The Centre of Excellence is a collaboration that makes a great deal possible, both for the Netherlands and Romania. A state-of-the-art lab with the latest equipment and talented researchers. An educational location in Romania for Nijmegen students and scientists as well as vice versa. Complementary research and more momentum for creating new lines of research and learning more about infectious diseases. This is what Netea, Joosten, and their colleagues in Cluj and Bonn have in mind. The collaboration is also a strategic partnership in order to jointly apply for European projects and organise collaborations with start-ups and established businesses in the Cluj region, where Dutch and German businesses can also make their mark.

Connection with Romania

undefinedAt the end of March, they were informed that they were among the 30 candidates selected from more than 200 applicants. Seven of these projects are expected to be chosen and they will each receive a grant of at least 30 million euros. The projects that are selected will be announced in the spring of 2019. They hope that their chances are good. Netea, born and raised in Cluj: “I know the country, the language, and the people, so hopefully that helps.” Furthermore, the two have been active in Romania for two years already. Joosten: “Last year, we each received a grant of two million euros from the Romanian government to build two labs for research in the field of genetics and immunology. This project links up perfectly with that. The people that we are already training will soon be able to work at the new institute.” (Photo: Mihai Netea)

There is a lot of work to be done

undefinedBefore it gets to that point, there is a great deal of work to be done. “From the first shovel in the ground to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, everything we want to do has to be planned,” explains Joosten. Investments will be made into collaborations with the business world, the government, and other strategic partners, in Europe as well as beyond. “Fortunately there is plenty of support for the centre, including in Romania itself,” says Netea, who finds it unique to help his homeland along in such a way. “Our research in immunology will be stimulated by this, but it is also incredibly wonderful to give something back to Romania.” (Photo: Leo Joosten)

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