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Joris van der Veeken secures FWF funding

22 May 2024

The Austrian Science Fund FWF has granted support to IMP Group Leader Joris van der Veeken to study how the protein TOX regulates genes that control the adaptive immune system of vertebrates.

IMP Group Leader Joris van der Veeken has been awarded a stand-alone grant by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) for his project “Gene-regulatory Functions of the Transcription Factor TOX in the Adaptive Immune System”.

T cells are a type of white blood cell that play a central role in vertebrate immune systems by attacking germs and killing unhealthy cells, making T cells the primary defence against many infections and diseases. To enable protective immunity against a wide range of pathogens, T cells can adopt specialized differentiation and activation states, which equip them to fight off foreign invaders. However, when T cells encounter long-lasting threats such as chronic viral infections or cancer, they become "exhausted", losing some of their effectiveness. This state of reduced activity is likely controlled by self-sustaining gene regulation pathways, which make the treatment of various diseases including cancer difficult.

The transcription factor TOX is a central regulator of this exhaustion process in T-cells, but its precise mechanism of action is still a mystery. The van der Veeken lab wants to fill this gap by investigating both the functional roles and genetic regulation of TOX. This transcription factor has different roles in different parts of the immune system: in the early stages of T cell development, and in supporting T follicular helper cells – specialised T cells which assist in antibody production and immune memory formation for effective defence against pathogens. TOX’s diverse roles make it a critical component to understand how our immune system really works.

“We’re very grateful for the FWF grant, it allows us to dive deeper into how our immune system fights off diseases,” says van der Veeken. “Figuring out the cellular and molecular functions of TOX in the immune system is of critical importance, and the IMP’s outstanding track record in immunology research makes it the perfect setting for this project.”

More about the van der Veeken lab
Lab webpages

About Joris van der Veeken
Joris van der Veeken earned his PhD at Cornell University, and later became a postdoctoral researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. In 2021, he returned to Europe, assuming his current role of Group Leader at the IMP in Vienna, where his lab focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying the differentiation and function of T cells. Van der Veeken was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2023.

About the FWF
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is Austria's central funding organization for basic research. Stand-alone grants are allocated to fund individual research in the area of non-profit oriented basic research. They are assigned solely based on their high quality, assessed by international referees on a competitive basis. The current approval rate for stand-alone projects is 26.6 percent.