Chemist Linde Smeenk receives Dick Stufkens Prijs 2013 for protein-mimicry

28. 10. 2013 | Susan

Best thesis of Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry paves the way towards new pharmaceuticals.

The Dick Stufkens Prijs 2013 is awarded to Dr. Linde Smeenk for her PhD thesis “Double-CLIPS Technology for the Mimicry of Structurally Complex Antibody Binding Sites on Proteins”. In this thesis she describes a first step towards the development of new innovative pharmaceuticals as cost-effective alternatives to expensive natural proteins (’biologicals’). The prize is annually awarded to the best thesis of a PhD student belonging to the Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry (HRSMC). It will be presented to Linde Smeenk at the annual HRSMC symposium on 21 November.

The research of Linde Smeenk focuses on the design, synthesis and evaluation of relatively small peptide constructs able to mimic specific antibody binding sites (’epitopes’) on natural proteins. Her molecules provide a very promising entry to make drugs available with a highly specific action spectrum at a cost which is only a fraction of that of the parent proteins – often referred to as ‘biologicals’.  

These ‘biologicals’ - protein based drugs – are hard to produce therefore result in high costs of treatment. As explained and demonstrated in Linde Smeenk’s thesis, however, the epitope of many proteins can be mimicked by tying together a few small amino acid chains (peptides) with specific organic linkers (clips). Such constructs are relatively easy to synthesize in the laboratory and apart from their low projected costs have the added advantage of being potentially more stable in vitro than natural proteins.

The jury of the Dick Stufkens Prijs is impressed by the quality, the originality and the interdisciplinary character of Linde Smeenk’s PhD thesis and expects that the work will have considerable impact in future development of specific drugs against a number of defects that are now either untreatable or only at extreme costs.

Linde Smeenk performed her research from 2008 until 2012 at the Synthetic Organic Chemistry Group of the Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences, University of Amsterdam. Her project was funded with an ECHO grant of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research NWO. She defended her thesis on March 22, 2013 (promotor Prof Dr. Peter Timmerman, copromotor Dr. Jan van Maarseveen). Part of her research has been patented. Linde is now a postdoc at the Laboratorium für Organische Chemie of Prof Dr. Helma Wennemers at the ETH Zürich. In the area of chemistry the ETH is among the best ten universities globally. On a European level it is the third university, following Cambridge en Oxford (source: QS rankings).

The Holland Research School of Molecular Chemistry (HRSMC) annually awards the Dick Stufkens Prize to the best thesis of a PhD student belonging to the School. The prize consists of a certificate and an amount of 1.000 euro. Prof Dr. Jan Verhoeven will present the prize to the winner on November 21 on behalf of the jury during the annual HRSMC symposium in Leiden. At this symposium Linde Smeenk will present a lecture on the work described in her thesis.