The DPI Golden Thesis Award 2014 has been granted to Mark van Eldijk for his thesis entitled "Elastin-like Polypeptides in Protein Nanotechnology". Mark did his PhD work at Radboud University in Nijmegen (Netherlands) under the supervision of Prof. Jan van Hest. The Golden Thesis Award is granted annually for the best PhD thesis resulting from DPI-funded research. Mark van Eldijk was unanimously selected as the winner from among the three finalists competing for this year's award. The other two candidates were: Gert-Jan Wetzelaer (University of Groningen), with a thesis on "Change Transport and Recombination in Organic-Semiconductor Diodes"; and Diego Wever (University of Groningen), with a thesis on "Synthesis and Evaluation of Novel Linear and Branched Polyacrylamides for Enhanced Oil Recovery". The award was presented during the plenary session of the DPI Annual Meeting 2014 in Arnhem on 11 November.
The three finalists had been pre-selected from the eleven nominations received this year. During the plenary session, these three finalists gave short presentations describing their PhD research in the presence of the Award Committee comprising Prof. Frans De Schryver (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium), Prof. Bas de Bruin (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands), Prof. Leo van de Ven (Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands, and AkzoNobel) and Prof. Sybrand van der Zwaag, DPI Scientific Director.
Mark van Eldijk was delighted with the award. Asked what he considered to be the most interesting part of his research, he said: "I particularly like the fact that my PhD work involved fundamental as well as applied research. My project - which was carried out as part of the DPI research programme - was aimed at developing biopolymers for biomedical applications such the purification of antibodies. This is currently a major research topic, with great potential for industrial application."
Materials scientists have been looking to Nature for inspiration in developing biopolymers. The unravelling of the structure-function relationship in structural proteins such as elastin led to the development of elastin-like polypeptides (ELPs), which are self-assembling and reversibly switchable materials whose solubility in water can be influenced by varying the ambient temperature. Mark van Eldijk used the elastin-like polypeptides to develop a novel method for the purification of antibodies and for the nano-scale encapsulation, an application that in the future may prove useful for targeted drug delivery systems. Mark: "I hope my PhD work will not only inspire further fundamental research, but will also attract industrial partners who have the scientific, technological and financial resources to develop new applications that will benefit human health."
Mark is currently working in the US as a Postdoctoral researcher in group of Prof. David A. Tirrell at the California Institute of Technology. His work there focuses on proteins involved in bacterial persistence by employing bio-orthogonal non-canonical amino acid tagging.