Van Deenen Medal

deenen1In honor of Laurens L.M. van Deenen, pioneer in biomembrane research at Utrecht University, the Institute of Biomembranes will annually award The van Deenen Medal to a leading scientist in biomembrane research.



2016 Prof. Dr. James E. Rothman


Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

James E. Rothman received the 2016 van Deenen medal for his ground breaking discoveries in the field of intracellular membrane and vesicular transport.  In the early 80’s, James Rothman and his colleagues reconstituted the transport of vesicular stomatitis virus glycoprotein, first in a cell-free extract and later using purified Golgi membranes. This unique achievement resulted in a plethora of papers elucidating the entire molecular machinery involved in the budding and fusion of a single round of vesicular transport from a donor to an acceptor membrane. A landmark achievement was the elucidation of the long-sought fusion machinery and the identification of the SNARE proteins, including the demonstration of a reconstitution of the fusion process with artificial liposomes and purified protein components. The van Deenen medal is in recognition of a life-long career over a period of more than 30 years acting at the highest level, demonstrating unique and unconventional research qualities over and over again. Dr. Rothman won numerous awards and received several honours. Among these are the Heineken Prize for Biochemistry in The Netherlands (2000), the Lasker Basic Research Award, U.S.A. (2002) and the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2013.

2016 Prof. Dr. Gerrit van Meer


Gerrit van Meer received the van Deenen medal for his important contributions to the Institute and Graduate School of Biomembranes (IB). The medal was awarded during an international symposium organized on the 25th anniversary of the IB. Gerrit was Director of the IB from 2004 to 2010 with a strong eye for the needs of PhD students and a robust believe that these young people are key to scientific innovations. He was trendsetting in improving the legal status of the PhD students as well as the quality of the PhD program and a strong promoter of interdisciplinary research and collaborations within the Institute. Overall, his easy approachable attitude and always listening ear have been crucial in shaping the IB to a coherent program that was accredited by the KNAW and that currently operates as a PhD programme within the Graduate School of Life Sciences of Utrecht University.

2015 Prof. Dr. Daniel J. Klionsky

Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan, USA

The 2015 Van Deenen Medal is awarded to Prof. Dr. Daniel J. Klionsky for his many contributions to our understanding the principles underlying the regulation and mechanism of autophagy, a degradative transport route conserved among all eukaryotes.

Using yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Prof. Klionsky laboratory was one of the first to identify the genes involved in autophagy. His study of these genes has led to the clarification of several aspects of the regulation and mechanism of autophagy. In particular, by investigating the transport of the large oligomers formed by the Ape1 aminopeptidase, he was to first to reveal the existence selective types of autophagy, which use the so-called autophagy receptors to specifically recognize and degrade the structures targeted to destruction. More recently, his studies have focus on the epigenetic regulation of autophagy.

The relevance of Prof. Klionsky in the field of autophagy is underlined by the fact the he has created the specialized journal Autophagy, initiated several conferences on autophagy and produced a very well-know compendium of guidelines about how assess autophagy in multiple organisms. Prof. Klionsky is also renowned for its commitment to education and he has received numerous prices for this.

2014 Prof. Dr. Scott D. Emr

2013 Prof. Dr. Robin F. Irvine

IrvineDepartment of Pharmacology, University of Cambridge, England
The 2013 Van Deenen Medal is awarded to Prof. Dr. Robin F. Irvine for his many contributions to our understanding of the metabolism and physiological functions of polyphosphoinositol lipids and phosphates.

All his research centers around inositides, which fall into two groups, inositol lipids and inositol phosphates. Most of his work focuses on some of the kinases that phosphorylate inositides, and the functions of their substrates and products, including exploration of possible effectors. As with any family of proteins associated with cell signaling, the kinases and effectors are more highly expressed in the brain than any other organ. Moreover, some enzymes that we work with, for example, IP3 3-kinase A and PI4P 5-kinase I gamma 93, are only expressed in neurons in the brain. His research is partly generic, using brain as a ‘super-signaling’ organ to study universal functions; and part specific, exploring inositide functions that are unique to neuroscience.

Throughout this time Prof. Irvine has been extensively involved in furthering research through membership of editorial boards, grant panels and committees, and he has trained many of the present leaders in the field of inositide function. Overall he has served for more than 25 years as one of the pivotal world figures in a revolution that has transformed the face of signal transduction.

2012 Prof. Dr. William T. Wickner

WicknerBillDartmouth Medical School, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA
The 2012 Van Deenen Medal is awarded to Prof. Dr. William T. Wickner for his contributions to the fields of bacterial secretory protein translocation, membrane fusion and inheritance, addressing fundamental problems in eukaryotic and bacterial cell biology.

His laboratory focuses on the proteins and lipids involved in the process of membrane fusion. By combining structural, genetic and enzymological approaches, Bill Wickner and his collaborators investigate the basic molecular mechanisms behind fusion events between different membranes and membrane compartments. This work resulted in many important publications in this field and he received multiple awards for his work. He is a member of the editorial board of the Annual reviews of Biochemistry and many distinguished researchers started their impressive careers in his lab.

2011 Prof. Dr. Pascale Cossart

CossartInstitut Pasteur, Department of Cell Biology and Infection, Paris, France
The 2011 Laurens van Deenen Medal was awarded to Prof. Dr. Pascale Cossart for her seminal discoveries in the analysis of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying infectious bacterial diseases. During the IB Conference on Biomembranes of the Institute of Biomembranes (IB), 21 October 2011 in Utrecht, Pascale Cossart received the 2011 van Deenen Medal from Prof. Helms, the Director of the IB.

Application of cell biology, biochemistry and molecular medicine to her research on Listeria made Prof Cossart one of the founders and frontiers of the field of ‘cellular microbiology’. Central theme in cellular microbiology is the host-pathogen interaction and in this area her research beautifully illustrates the importance of membrane dynamics in host cells and how these dynamics become a target for pathogens. Prof. Cossart made some novel discoveries in this area of research e.g. targeting by Listeria of host cell clathrin and actin rearrangements as well as the targeting of host cell lipids. Since this type of research is at the heart of the Institute of Biomembranes she fully deserves the Laurens van Deenen Medal 2011.

Pascale Cossart receives the 2011 van Deenen Medal from Prof. Helms, the Director of the IB.

Pascale Cossart receives the 2011 van Deenen Medal from Prof. Helms, the Director of the IB.

2010 Prof. Dr. Tom Rapoport

Tom RapoportHoward Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA
During the annual IB Conference on Biomembranes of the Institute of Biomembranes (IB), 29 October 2010 in Utrecht, Tom Rapoport received the 2010 van Deenen Medal for his outstanding contributions in the field of Biomembrane research.

Tom Rapoport has published many major contributions to our understanding of the molecular structure and function of the membrane of the ER and the bacterial membrane. Most notable are his studies on protein translocation across these membranes in which he is one of the world leaders. His major goal is to understand in mechanistic terms how proteins are transported across membranes. Recently, the Rapoport group solved the structure of a complex of the ATPase SecA and the bacterial protein-translocation channel, just one example of the many contributions to this field. Apart from his scientific work Tom Rapoport is a wonderful teacher to young scientists. Amongst others, he contributes already for years to the joint FEBS-EMBO summerschool in Cargèse, Corsica France and many PhD students in training have met and discussed with Tom Rapoport for the first time there.

Van Deenen medallist 2010 Tom Rapoport with the van Deenen medal.

Van Deenen medallist 2010 Tom Rapoport with the van Deenen medal.

2009 Prof. Dr. Gunnar von Heijne
heijne_von_gunnar_1Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics Stockholm University, Sweden

During the annual Institute of Biomembranes (IB) Conference on Biomembranes, 30 October 2009 in Utrecht, Gunnar von Heijne received the 2009 van Deenen Medal for his outstanding contributions to the field of biomembrane research.

Gunnar is an enthusiastic and creative scientist whose research focuses on membrane proteins. In particular, he aims to understand how these proteins are targeted to particular membranes, how they become inserted and what determines their topology. His approach is unique, in that he combines the power of bioinformatics with cleverly designed in vitro molecular biological approaches. This allows him to compare processes that occur in biological membranes upon biosynthetic insertion of membrane proteins with results from biophysical approaches and bioinformatics. Gunnar is particularly well known for his contributions to bioinformatics, which have had a large impact in the field of biomembranes: he designed many new algorithms, that are now widely used, with probably most well-known the so-called ‘positive-inside’ rule, which allows one to predict the topology of membrane proteins simply by counting charges on either side of the membrane-spanning fragments. Gunnar’s research has resulted in a long list of highly-cited papers in top journals like Science and Nature. He has also made name as an inspiring teacher.

The IB conference was preceded by the IB PhD student day, during which the speakers of the conference supervised a number of well-attended workshops for PhD students and postdocs. Both days are part of the PhD program Biomembranes of the Graduate School of Life Sciences of Utrecht University. They were fully booked and attracted many PhD students, postdocs and staff scientists, but also master students, from Utrecht as well as other institutes in the Netherlands. During the IB PhD day, Coen Maas from the Department of Clinical Chemistry and Haematology, UMC Utrecht, received the IB publication award for his paper in the Journal of Clinical Investigation 118 (2008) 3208-18.

Van Deenen medallist 2009 Gunnar von Heijne has received the van Deenen medal from Prof. Judith Klumperman.

Van Deenen medallist 2009 Gunnar von Heijne has received the van Deenen
medal from Prof. Judith Klumperman.

2008 Prof. Dr. Ari Helenius

Ari HeleniusInstitute of Biochemistry Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ)

During the annual symposium of the Institute of Biomembranes (IB), 24 October in Utrecht, Ari Helenius has received the 2008 van Deenen Medal for his outstanding career in biomembrane research.

Central to all of Ari Helenius’ work (since 1977) are membranes and membrane proteins. A cell biologist at heart he studied the functioning and dynamics of eukaryotic membranes and organelles, typically using viruses and their components as probes. Over the years he touched many different topics, always researching issues in great depth but never hesitating to move on to novel questions. He was generous towards every senior post-doc in his laboratory, always allowing them to take their project to an independent position. This never led to competition as Helenius simply moved on to another topic. And when he did, he opened new books in every research field he touched. It started with his work as a PhD student, in which he wrote a citation classic: Ari Helenius and Kai Simons were the first to apply detergents to the study of membrane proteins. We cannot fathom where cell biology and biochemistry would stand today without detergents as these are the tools that were instrumental to the tremendous progress made over the last decades.

Ari Helenius became famous in 1980 when he described the first endocytic cell entry pathway of a virus, including the acid-activated fusion of an enveloped virus. Over the years he used altogether 12 different viruses to study issues as different as membrane traffic, nuclear import and export, nucleocapsid uncoating and caveolar endocytosis. Most of his virological work centers around the variety of ways by which viruses gain access to cells, how they exploit and subvert cellular organelles and pathways, and take control. Doing so, he established novel concepts in virology by applying cell biology to virology, and vice versa.

Ari Helenius2008

Van Deenen medallist 2008 Ari Helenius has received the van Deenen
medal from the scientific director of the IB, Gerrit van Meer.

2007 Prof. Dr. Randy Schekman

schekman_finalHoward Hughes Investigator and Professor of  Cell & Developmental Biology, University of  California, Berkeley

During the annual symposium of the Institute of Biomembranes (IB), 19 October in Utrecht, Randy Schekman received the 2007 van Deenen Medal for his outstanding career in biomembrane research. The Schekman lab studies membrane assembly, vesicular transport, and membrane fusion among organelles of the secretory pathway. By a combination of genetic, morphological and biochemical evaluations of the secretion (sec) mutants in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the Schekman lab has elucidated key components and events of the secretory pathway and made a tremendous contribution to our understanding of the principal mechanisms involved in membrane transport and protein sorting. Importantly, protein transport in yeast appears to be mediated by the same organelles and proteins that operate in mammalian cells.

The impact of the outstanding contributions of Dr. Schekman to modern cell biology is internationally recognized and perhaps best illustrated by the numerous prestigious awards that were previously awarded to him. Among his honors are the Eli Lilly Award in microbiology, the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award in basic biomedical science, the Gairdner International Award, the Amgen Award from the Protein Society, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize of Columbia University. Moreover, Dr. Schekman is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, scientific director of the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research, past president of the American Society for Cell Biology and member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is editor in chief of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Randy Schekman

Gerrit van Meer presents The van Deenen Medal to Randy Schekman during
the annual symposium of the Institute of Biomembranes (IB), 19 October 2007 in Utrecht.

2006 Prof. Dr. Chris Raetz

Chris RaetzChairman of Biochemistry, Duke University, USA

During the IB Conference on Biomembranes 2006, Prof. Dr. Chris R.H. Raetz received the van Deenen Medal for his outstanding achievements on research on bacterial lipids. Chris Raetz received his PhD at Harvard University in Boston were he worked with Eugene Kenedy to study the biosynthesis of bacterial phospholipids. He subsequently shifted to the biosynthesis of lipopolysaccharides (LPS), a much more complex bacterial lipid species. LPS is also known as endotoxin and is responsible for very strong immunological reactions in patients that suffer from bacterial infections. He was then already working at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, USA, were his group unraveled the complete biosynthesis route for LPS, a route one should now call the “Raetz pathway”. This opened the possibility for the development of new antimicrobial drugs that block LPS synthesis. As research director at Merck Research Laboratories at Rahway, New Jersey, Raetz persued these possibilities for several years but moved back to the academia. He recieved a chair at Duke University, Durham were he continued his research on LPS, focussing both on the development of LPS-synthesis inhibitors as well as the LPS modifications that exist in many different bacteria.

2005 Prof. Dr. Kai Simons

Kai SimonsMax-Planck Institute, Dresden, Germany

On a well-attended Annual Symposium of the Institute for Biomembranes (November 11) Kai Simons received the 2005 van Deenen medal for his impressive career in biomembrane research. After his medical training and a stay as research associate at Rockefeller (New York), Kai started his important research on membrane viruses with Ari Helenius at the end of the sixties. This resulted in the discovery of the pH dependent virus fusion in 1980 at the EMBL Heidelberg, where he had since 1975 created a blooming cell biology program.
He then directed his attention to the molecular basis of the polarity of the epithelial cell surface. After formulating with Gerrit van Meer the lipid raft hypothesis, which states that membranes contain domains of a different lipid composition, he has played a leading role in the field.
Since 2000 he started a new Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, which already now belongs to the top institutes in Europe. Kai’s last message to the audience was that after a period of fluorescence, genomics and proteomics, we need thorough biochemical research emphasizing the molecular analysis of cell biological processes and the reconstitution of these processes from purified components in vitro.

2004 Prof. Dr. Arie Verkleij

Arie VerkleijCell Biology, Biology, UU

Arie Verkleij (Cell Biology, Biology, UU) has been Scientific Director since the inauguration of the IB in 1991. He is initiator and founder of the Research School of Biomembranes. For his great efforts for the Institute of Biomembranes Arie Verkleij was awarded The van Deenen Medal for special services, made of aluminum. As of November 2004, Arie Verkleij was succeeded by Gerrit van Meer (Membrane Enzymology, Chemistry, UU).

Arie Verkleij

Arie Verkleij presents The van Deenen Medal to the audience during
the IB conference on Biomembranes in October 22, 2004.

2004 Prof. Dr. Michael Sheetz

Michael SheetzColumbia University, New York, USA
Michael Sheetz published in 1974 the standard model for biomembranes.

Biological Membranes as Bilayer Couples. A Molecular Mechanism of Drug-Erythrocyte Interactions Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1974 November; 71(11): 4457–4461 Michael P. Sheetz and S. J. Singer. With advanced techniques, like the laser-tweezer technique, he and his colleagues demonstrated later the existence of important interactions between biomembranes and the cytoskeleton.

Michael Sheetz

Arie Verkleij presents the award winner Michael Sheetz the first van Deenen Medal during the IB conference on Biomembranes October 22, 2004.


Van Deenen Medallist 2016:
Bernd Helms congratulates VDM winner James Rothman

VDM winner for special merits:
Judith Klumperman congratulates Gerrit van Meer.